Title: Magic
Author: Vera
Category: Michael/Maria, AU
Rating: mature
Disclaimer: I don’t own the characters, or Tess would have killed Liz instead of Alex. ;)
Summary: This is very AU in that it’s fantasy. So there are wizards but no aliens. Michael is a very powerful one among them and Maria is his student.

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Chapter One

“Maria!“ Everybody in Din's Tavern flinched as the dark voice reverberated through the halls. They knew who it belonged to even before they saw the powerful magician stride through the door, his dark cloak flying behind him. “Maria!”

“Oh shit!” The girl in question ducked in her chair, looking around at her group of friends. “Kyle! Kyle, hide me!”

”What?” The young man flinched and glanced behind his shoulder, seeing Michael dangerously close. “But I can't…”

”Kyle!” She kicked his leg and he made a face.

“Ow, dammit, you know I'm just starting at all of this too and…” He grovelled when she kicked him again and quickly mumbled a half-hearted spell and then reached into one of the bags hanging around his belt and threw some powder at her.

It gave a small ‘poof' as it exploded in a red cloud and not a moment too soon because when he turned again, Michael was standing right behind him.

Maria clenched both of her eyes shut tightly, as if it would help if she didn't see him either. But she could feel his eyes on her, staring her down. Carefully she opened one of hers and peaked at him, her shoulders still hunched together. She caught his blazing brown eyes and bit her lip.

“He can see me, can't he?” She next turned towards Tess who just nodded meekly, staring at Michael in awe.

Maria glared at Kyle. He shrugged and mouthed a ‘sorry'. Sorry ! Maria almost snorted . It was too late for that. Slowly her expression changed and she smiled sweetly at Michael. “Yes? Master? You were searching for me?”

Michael stared at her, his eyelid starting to twitch. It always amazed him how she could play so completely oblivious. “Yes, Maria. What a great observation on your part. You're finally learning.” His voice was dripping with sarcasm and he smirked in satisfaction when her smile seemed to falter.

“What is it? I am not due to meet you till the other day.” She looked around again and saw her friends starting to leave. Panicking again, she quickly grabbed Tess' thigh to keep her near. If there were witnesses, he couldn't kill her. Or turn her into a frog, or something worse.

“Yes I know, and believe me I was really looking forward to spending a few peaceful hours without you at my side, but then guess what happened when I controlled your latest task. Remember what I told you to do?” He walked closer to the table and Max and Kyle quickly scrambled off their chairs, leaving the table.

‘Traitors,' Maria thought and glared after them. “Uh, yes.” Dammit. She did remember. She had just hoped he wouldn't notice.

“Good. Then please tell me again what it was, in case you maybe got it all wrong and it was my fault.” Now it was his turn to give her a sweet smile, but it only sent more shivers down her spine.

“I was, uh… I was supposed to do your laundry and… and add a spell to get your shirts extra white.” Crap , crap , crap . She should have just lied to him, but what good would that have done?

“Yes. White.” He quickly glanced around and then stepped even closer to her, leaning over the table a little while he carefully opened his cloak so only Maria and Tess, who still desperately squirmed, trying to leave, could see his shirt. They both gasped and then Tess had to bite her cheek to keep from laughing out loud. “Does this look like white to you, Maria?”

”Uhm… no. Not… really.” She cocked her head and flashed him a smile again.

“No, not really?” He mocked her and had to grip the table to do keep from doing something he'd later regret. “White, Maria. White. This is pink!” He fought to keep his voice low but had to glare around when he could hear snickers breaking out all around him. It only helped to fuse his anger and he quickly closed his cloak again. “You. Outside. Now.” He gave the blonde girl a look and then swiftly turned around, leaving the tavern with his head raised high.

“Thanks for your help.” Maria jumped off her chair and looked at Kyle and Max, who stood there smiling sheepishly. They shrugged and Maria sighed. Yes, she knew this was all her own fault and they were probably just as afraid of Michael as she was, but still.

“Good luck.” Tess squeezed her shoulder and gave her an encouraging smile.

“Thanks, I'll need it.” She sighed and quickly finished her raspberry beer in one large gulp. “If I'm not here tomorrow, please tell my mom I loved her very much.”

“Oh, shoo. He won't kill you.” Tess rolled her eyes and chuckled.

“Did you see his shirt?” Maria raised an eyebrow and then glared at Tess when she started to laugh, clearly not understanding the gravity of the situation. Maria was doomed. And it was all her own fault. She sighed again and then quietly left the tavern, going to face the dragon.

********

Chapter Two

Outside of the tavern Michael was pacing impatiently. This wasn't the evening he had planned. He had wanted to meditate for an hour or two, then watch the stars before going to bed. Now he was out here waiting for his no-good new student. He knew he never should have taken a girl. They were just not fit for real magic.

He stopped when the door opened and Maria came out, hands in her pockets and doing her best not to look him in the eye. “Listen, Michael. I'm really sorry, I…”

Michael quickly looked around. “I told you to call me ‘master' whenever we're in public,” he hissed at her. “I have a reputation to lose.” Shaking his head, he sighed and pulled her further away from the tavern into the shadows.

“Sorry,” she mumbled, shuffling her feet. “Master.”

“Yeah, whatever. Sorry will not cut it this time, Blondie. Did you see my shirt? And they all look like this. Bright pink. Pink!” He grabbed her arm to force her to look at him. “How could you screw up this spell? You can do much better.”

“It was kinda a hard spell.” Maria bit her lip.

“Hard? Maria, none of my pupils ever screwed this one up. I could perform this spell when I was five years old.”

“Not everybody was raised by a magician.” She looked shocked at her own words and Michael let go of her instantly. It wasn't a good idea to start with his father, she knew that.

He took a deep breath. “I know that, okay? I know your mom is just a simple peasant and you would have never even seen the school if it wouldn't have been for their new social support program for hardship cases…”

”That's not why I was there!” She glared at him.

“No? Then why were you there? Why were you accepted at the school for magicians?”

“Because I'm good.” Maria proudly raised her chin. “No, I'm better. Better than all of the others.”

Michael bit down a smile. Yeah, he knew she was. That was the reason he chose her over that mousy Liz Parker girl when they forced him to take a female student or be expelled as a teacher. “You are? You could have me fooled, what with all the mistakes you make and the simple spells you screw up.”

”I was… I…” She bit her lip again.

“Tell me, how long have you been studying before you entered my services?”

“Three years.”

“Three years, Maria. Don't you think three years of intense studies would raise you to the level of a five year old raised this way?” She glared at him and Michael bit down another smirk. “As punishment you will have to do my laundry for the next three months,” Michael continued. “Without the use of any magic .”

”What?” Maria gasped. “You can't do that! I'm not your servant.”

”No, you're right. You're just my student, so I can't get rid of you. If you were my servant, I'd just fire you.” Michael raised his eyebrows. She would have to learn where her place was, but he had no idea how to teach her. It was hard dealing with her. She was a special case.

“So can I fire you?” She cocked her head.

“Sure, if you want to throw the last few years away and quit your studies.” He shrugged.

Maria glared at him again. “Alright, fine. I'll do your damn laundry.”

“Master.”

”What?” She was looking at him confused.

“I'll humbly accept your punishment for my error and promise to never screw up again, Master.” Michael smirked at her.

“Whatever.” Maria was back at glaring at him and Michael shook his head, biting down yet another smile. She sure was the most stubborn student he had ever had. But then again, usually his students were kids and male, the oldest having been thirteen so far. She was only five years younger than him. Maybe that was the whole problem. He should have left her to be taught by one of the elders, but when he was forced to take a female student, he chose her. Because he had seen great potential in her. And he still did.

“Come on, I'll walk you home.”

”What?” Maria frowned suspiciously.

”I'll walk you home. It's not safe for you to go home alone this late.” Especially since she was his student. It wouldn't be the first time Hank would try to snag one of them and… No, not again.

“I can take care of mys… Gah!” She jumped into his arms when Michael let a ball of light explode behind her. For a second they were frozen in place, both holding onto each other, then he quickly let go and took a step back. This was yet another reason why this whole student/teacher thing wasn't going to work out between the two of them. He was way too attracted to her.

“You were saying?”

Maria grumbled but then sighed. “Alright. Walk me home.”

Finally allowing himself a smile, Michael tightened his cloak around him and nodded. “Come on, let's go.”

“Why don't you just shift us?” She frowned.

“Why don't you?”

”What? No, no, I can't!” Maria looked at him panicked.

“Sure you can. You've learned enough for it.” He nodded encouragingly but Maria kept shaking her head. “Alright, so we'll walk.” He was in no haste to get home and it was a nice, quiet night. Perfect for a walk.

She sighed and relented and together they started walking towards the fields. Michael could feel that something was still bugging her and he had an idea what it was. They made a few steps before she couldn't hold it back any longer. “This wasn't fair though, you know?” She was talking about his little trick with the ball of light.

He almost laughed. She was so predictable. “Yeah, yeah. Whatever.” He smirked at her and they walked the rest of the way in silence, Michael making sure they always stayed a few feet apart.

When they came close to the small cottage she was living in with her mother, said woman came running out of the door, embracing Maria in a tight hug. Michael could see why she had chosen to stay in her old home instead of moving in at the school, although her scholarship would have covered for that, too.

Finally noticing Michael, Amy quickly let go of her daughter and hastily bowed. “Oh, forgive me Master, I didn't see you at first.”

“It's okay.” Michael smiled at her. “And please, call me Michael.”

“Oh but…” Amy seemed flustered. It wasn't common that magicians spoke friendly to the peasants, let alone any with Michael's rank, but he always found it silly to be looked up at, all for nothing.

“Please, I insist.” He took her hand in both of his and squeezed it.

“Okay, Ma… Michael .” Amy smiled , then she frowned a little. “But why are you here? Did Maria do something wrong?”

“Oh no, ma'am. Your daughter is a first class student. You can be proud of her.” Michael squeezed her hand again and then let go of it.

Amy beamed at Maria who in turn looked at Michael in utter confusion. “Oh, I am.” She quickly hugged her still dumb-struck daughter again. “I always knew my baby had it in her.”

”Mom!” Maria quickly pulled back. “I'm eighteen!”

“So? You're still my baby.” Amy wrapped her arm around Maria's shoulders.

”But mom…” Maria sighed and when she glanced at Michael he could see that her cheeks were tinted a lovely shade of red. He was still smiling, albeit a bit sadder now. Seeing a family like this always painfully reminded him of his own upbringing.

“Oh! Since Michael's here now, why don't you run and get those cookies for him, Maria?” Amy nudged her encouragingly and if possible, Maria's cheeks turned even redder.

“Mom!” It was almost a hiss.

“What? You forgot them two days in a row, I bet you will forget them tomorrow as well.” She gave Michael an apologetic smile. “She's always so distracted.”

Michael smirked. “Yeah, I know.”

“But I don't think Michael would even want them.” Maria shuffled her feet.

“But you made them especially for him, baby.”

”Yeah, because you told me to.”

”Maria! This isn't very polite of you. I'm sure Michael would love your cookies, don't you, Michael?” She was looking up at him.

It took all of Michael's restraint not to burst out laughing. “Oh sure. I love cookies.”

”Fine. I'll go get them.” Maria was still avoiding his eyes and quickly turned to run into the cottage.

Amy and Michael were standing in silence for a few seconds. “I must apologize for my daughter.” Amy bit her lip.

“Oh no, please don't.” Michael shook his head. He knew Maria too well by now. And before any of them could utter another word, she was back, panting and handed him the cookies. They were wrapped in a finely embroidered cloth. “Thank you.” He smiled at Maria and then inspected the cloth.

“Maria made all of this herself. The cookies, the cloth…”

”Mom!” Maria whined, obviously uncomfortable.

“All without magic?” Michael asked, carefully opening the cloth to get at one of the cookies.

“Yes, of course.” Amy quickly nodded, but then hesitated. “Why? Was that bad? Should she be using more magic in the house?” She bit her lip and glanced at her daughter.

“Oh, no, no.” Michael waved his hand. “I just wanted to know if I can safely eat those.” He winked at Maria who blushed back to her previous deep shade of red. Amy looked confused and before she could ask what he meant, he quickly added: “Besides, it's no good to use too much magic. You start to rely on it too much and it spoils you and the temptation to lose your way might be too great.”

Maria frowned a little and Amy wrapped her arm around her again, keeping her safe. “I understand , Michael.” He was speaking about his father. But the danger was always there, even for himself. Or maybe most especially for himself. He had been raised by Hank after all.

“I think it's time for me to go now. Thanks again for the cookies, Maria.” He smiled at her and she just nodded, still a little out of it.

“Thanks for bringing my baby back home safe.”

“Mom!” And there she was again, the old Maria. Michael chuckled.

“No problem, Miss DeLuca.” He nodded and turned around, ready to leave.

“Oh, Michael?” Amy called out to him.

“Yeah?” He turned again.

“Call me Amy.”

Michael smiled and nodded, then pulled his hood up over his head before he turned again, the cookies safely clutched in his left hand. And after taking a few steps he vanished in front of their eyes as he shifted back into his castle.

********

Chapter Three

Early the next day Maria was on her way to Dragon's Lair Castle, happily whistling a tune, when suddenly Michael materialized right in front of her. She jumped in surprise and let out a shriek. “Gah! Michael!”

The wizard smirked at her. “Rule number two. Always be alert of your surroundings.”

“My surroundings? You just popped up out of thin air, dammit!” She was clutching onto her wildly beating heart, which wasn't only caused by shock, but also just by the sheer sight of him, all dressed in black this time, his shoulder length hair flowing in the wind.

Michael raised his eyebrows. “So? You should have been able to feel the slight shift in the air right before I arrived, if you had paid attention.”

She glared at him. Yes, he was right. She should have. But she didn't and that only made her more mad. “What do you want anyways? I'm not late.” She frowned and took a good look at the sun to try and figure out what time it was. “Am I?”

“No. But today's lesson is spent outside, so I thought I'd meet you on the way.”

“Oh.” Maria smiled. So that meant neither doing the laundry not cleaning up one of his many dusty unused rooms.

“And you failed your first test.”

Her smile fell. Damn. Why did he always have to be so evil? “But…” A raise of his eyebrow silenced her and she sighed. “Yes, Master.”

Michael rolled his eyes. “Don't get smart with me, Maria.”

She was tempted to give him another impersonal reply, but then decided against it when she saw the disappointed look on his face. “I'm sorry, Michael. I know I should be more careful. And usually…” He raised his eyebrow again and she sighed again in defeat. Why did he always know when she was lying? “I'm working on it, okay?”

“That's all I wanted to hear.” He smiled at her and then touched her elbow, leading her away from the path through the trees. “And now we can begin today's real lesson.”

”Which is?” Maria looked at him curiously. He was still holding on to her arm, which was slightly distracting. Why didn't she pull on a short sleeved shirt today?

”Shifting.” He grinned at her.

“What? But… but…” All of her thoughts were suddenly focused, trying to find the right spells in her mind. “But I didn't prepare the spell and I'm… I'm just not ready.”

”Yes you are.” Michael gave her an encouraging smile, but it didn't go through to her.

“No, no, no! Please, I just… I really can't remember the spell.” Maria started to panic. She'd end up inside of a tree. Or worse, not moving at all.

“Spells are for losers.” He let go of her to wave it off. “If you want to be a real wizard, you learn to do it without.”

“But…” She just stared at him open-mouthed. How was she supposed to do that?

They had passed the trees now and were standing at the beginning of a wide, green meadow with only a few trees shattered here and there. That's when Michael stopped her. “Look, it's easy when you have it in you.”

She gave him a doubtful look.

“And you have it in you, Maria.” He chuckled softly and laid his hands on her shoulders. “You're good. You're a natural. You can do this.”

She was staring at one of his hands now and he quickly pulled them back. Damn, this wasn't what she wanted. It had felt nice. Almost as nice as to hear his words. “You really think I can?” She cocked her head.

“We wouldn't be here if I didn't.”

Maria bit her lip. If he had confidence in her, even after all the times she screwed up, then maybe so could she. “Alright, so what do I have to do?”

Michael smiled broadly. “Concentrate. Find a spot you want to go to, then picture it in front of your inner eye. Then you close your eyes and imagine yourself standing right at said spot, and then you just go there.”

”Just go there?” She glanced at him, strongly doubting this could work. It sounded way too easy.

“Yes.” Michael nodded. “Look.” And then he disappeared only to show up again about fifteen meters away from her.

Maria frowned. Yeah, nice. She had seen him shift quite a few times before. He had taken her with him sometimes too, but how was this helping her doing it herself?

“Now you.”

He just stood there smiling and Maria's frown deepened. “But I…”

”Concentrate!” he called over and nodded shortly.

Biting her lip, she looked at him. Concentrate. Okay. Easy. Find a spot right next to him, picture it, concentrate… Ignore his hair and his smile and his… concentrate. She focused past him on the grass, pictured herself standing there, the surprised look on his face when she made it, then she closed her eyes and when she opened them again… nothing had happened. She frowned and looked around. Nope, not even an inch.

Maria sighed and when she glanced over at Michael, he was still smiling at her, not disappointed at all. “Just try again.”

She passed her hand through her hair, smoothing a lose strand out of her face and back behind her ear. Okay, she could do this. Find a spot, find a spot… She saw a nice bush not far away from Michael and decided to try it with something a little more concrete than grass. Now concentrate…

“Focus.” Suddenly he was behind her again, his hands on her shoulders. And this time it wasn't distracting at all, it was giving her strength.

She turned a little and smiled at him, then focused on the bush once more.

“You focusing on that bush?”

“Yeah.” Maria nodded, keeping her eyes trained on it.

“Close your eyes.” Michael's voice was almost a whisper and she quickly complied. “Now picture yourself standing right next to it. Feel the grass under your feet and when you reach out, you can touch the leaves of the bush. It's blackberry, do you see it?”

“Yeah…” Maria reached out with her hand, excited to find out he was right, and she could feel the leaves, even though it was all in her mind. She could just about smell the berries too.

“Open your eyes, Maria.” His voice sounded far away and Maria frowned, slowly opening her eyes again.

“shit!” She jumped when she saw him standing across for her, just about fifteen feet away again. Just this time, the woods were behind him, and the bush… the bush was right next to her. “Oh my god! Oh my god, I did it!” She jumped again, this time out of joy.

Michael quickly shifted right next to her. Her happiness was contagious and he smiled back at her. “See? I told you it was easy.”

“Easy?” She shook her head and then suddenly hugged him tight. This was just all too good to be true. She was so happy she could burst.

He froze when she wrapped her arms around him and just when he was about to hug her back, she pulled away again. Good. Yeah. Maybe. He scratched his eyebrow. This all wouldn't be so complicate with a male student.

“Sorry, I was just…” She bit her lip but then her smile broke through again. “I did it!”

”I know.” He smiled back once more. “You did very well, Maria.” He had known she could do this. There was something in her, this power. It was the reason why he ultimately chose her, even though she was so old. And so female.

Beaming with pride, Maria picked a few berries and popped them in her mouth. “So what's next?” She had a feeling she could take on anything right now.

“Well, shifting.” He raised his eyebrow. “You did it once, but can you do it again?”

She opened her mouth to protest but then realized he was right. She had only done it because he had been there to guide her through it. Could she really do it alone as well? “Wh…where to?” She smoothed a strand of hair back behind her ear, almost all of her excitement suddenly gone and replaced by nervousness.

Michael looked around till he spotted a tree in a farther distance. “Pick a bush near that tree.”

“Why a bush and not the tree itself?” She frowned at him.

“It's safer that way.” She opened her mouth but he waved her off before she could protest. “Trust me.” He didn't want her ending up in the tree or banging straight against it. But if he told her what could happen, she would be too afraid to try. To his luck, she shrugged and then nodded.

“Alright, a bush it is.” He was her teacher, he should know. Maria found one right next to the tree and concentrated on it for a few seconds, then she closed her eyes and pictured herself standing next to it, just as she did before. She could feel Michael right next to her and it was comforting. She knew he would help her again if necessary. But she wanted to do it all alone this time and make him proud again. She smiled but then bit her lip. She was losing her concentration. It took her a little longer to find it again, but she didn't give up until she could feel the leaves of the bush tickling her hand. Smirking she opened her eyes again. Yes! She did it!

Jumping up and down, she waved at him. But instead of joining her like she expected, he motioned for her to come back. She frowned disappointed. Did she do something wrong? She started to walk over when he shook his head and she could hear him yelling no and something else incoherent. No? Then suddenly it dawned on her. Oh, right. This was a shifting lesson.

Maria blushed and stopped dead in her tracks. It was easy. She did it twice now she could do it a third time as well. Concentrating was even easier now, because she had to concentrate on him. His handsome face and well-toned body. The long back coat and his waving hair. She smiled dreamily and when she opened her eyes, she let out a shriek and tumbled to the ground right on top of Michael.

********

Chapter Four

“That was a little too close.” Michael looked up at her from where he had fallen flat on his back after she knocked him over. It all happened too fast for him to react but at least she had landed soft.

“I think now I understand what you meant by the tree being too dangerous.” She smiled weakly and pushed her hair out of her face.

“Yeah well, better me than the tree, right?” Michael chuckled. He should scold her, but all in all she made it. And he was just happy that she didn't crash into a tree and hurt herself under his watch. And actually, it didn't feel all that bad to have her on top of him.

He noticed her hands on his chest just about the same time she did, because then they both looked at each other curious – and confused. They were pretty damn close right now, and he couldn't get away, even though every sane part of his brain told him to do so quickly, before things would get even more out of hand.

Maria watched him closely. Even though she had often cursed her fate of being stuck with Michael as her teacher, she was still secretly happy she had snatched the only young and handsome teacher available. She had just never thought something like this would happen.

She reached out and touched his lips. So close. This was almost like a dream. Just she had never been on top in them. Not at first at least. shit! She suddenly realized that this was not a dream and she was lying on top of Michael the Dragon in the wet grass. Why hadn't he pushed her off yet? And what would he do to eventually punish her this time?

He was known for his temper, hence his nickname. But he had never really lost it with her yet. Sure, he had yelled a few times and stuff, but then again, she had never knocked him over into the wet grass until now. Biting her lip, Maria quickly scrambled off of him and stood up, wiping the dirt from her dress. “I'm so sorry, Michael. I didn't mean to…”

“Hey, it's okay.” Michael stood up as well. She looked panicked. Why? He frowned and placed his hand on her shoulder. “Nothing can happen to you. Nobody has ever ended up dead while shifting against a tree.” At least not that he knew off.

“What?”

”Wasn't that what you were worried about?” He pulled his hand back and scratched his eyebrow. She was confusing. For a moment there he had almost thought she'd kiss him but then her expression changed and she jumped up. It was for the better, because he surely would have pushed her away. But still.

“Oh. Oh! Yeah, yeah, that was it.” She giggled and he knew she was lying. She never giggled unless she thought she could hide something with it.

“Maria?”

”I'm fine.” She wrapped her arms around herself. “Sorry for knocking you over.”

“Sorry for standing in your way.” He winked, hoping to lighten her up.

It worked and Maria smiled back. “So what now?”

“Now you get to pick a place all by your own.” Michael made a gesture with his arm, indicating she had the whole area to choose from. “Just, please…” He made a dramatic pause. “No trees, okay?”

“Okay.” She rolled her eyes. He didn't need to tell her that, she wouldn't have chosen anything solid anyways. Looking around, she found yet another bush and decided to go for it. Bushes always worked well so far, and after a little concentration this bush proved to work fine as well.

Maria smiled when she reached it. She still couldn't believe it, she was really shifting on her own. And all without learning spells, or worse, having to make up her own. This was fun, so she wasn't mad at all when Michael showed up next to her just seconds later, demanding she'd do it again.

This went on four more times till suddenly Michael scared her again by saying, “Now take me with you.”

“What?” She gaped at him. Damn, and she had just thought she was done with the failures today.

“You heard me.”

”But Michael…” Maria whined.

“No buts. You've mastered shifting now this is the next step.” He took a step closer to her and passed a hand through his hair. “It's just the same, just you picture the both of us standing at the destination.”

“Oh well, that sounds easy.” She rolled her eyes. Damn. “Hey, uh, I can't… can't like screw up and merge us while we shift, can I?”

Michael laughed. “No.”

Great, now she felt stupid. But how could he be so sure? She raised her eyebrow.

“That's physically impossible, Maria. You're bending space and not actually doing anything to our bodies.”

“Yeah, I… I know that.” Or something. She must have flunked this class. But she had always hated the explanations to what was really going on. She was more interested in finding out how she could do it, the rest didn't matter.

Now it was his turn to raise an eyebrow, but he didn't say anything.

“So I pick a bush?” She asked timidly. God, hopefully she wouldn't end up on top of him again. Though it had been kinda nice…

“Yep.” He took her hand in his. “Pick a close one for the first time.”

Maria nodded and moved closer to Michael, hoping it would help. Then, after picking a bush, she did just what always did, concentrated on herself standing next to it, just now she would be standing there with Michael. Easy. She opened her eyes and cursed when she saw Michael still across from her.

“Forgot something?” He smirked and Maria cursed him too. Why did he have to be so smug about it? She wasn't sure what was worse. This, or him yelling at her for screwing it up.

She sighed and walked over to him, assuming he would want her to try again. He held out his hand invitingly and she took it, hoping it would help to actually be connected to him. And because it just felt nice. His hands were so big and strong. Comforting. Comforting and… 'Concentrate!' She scolded herself and then closed her eyes and took a deep breath.

“Don't force it, just let it flow.” He interlaced their fingers and moved even closer to her. “Concentrate on us.” She could do it, he knew she could. She was such a natural. Usually it would have been days between a first shifting lesson and the one about taking another person, but he didn't think Maria would need it.

She needed to be challenged. Maybe that had been the whole problem before. Her chores had been too easy for her so she didn't concentrate enough and that made her flunk them. Like washing his shirts. He was still a bit miffed about that, but it wouldn't do any good to scold her again. Besides, she was really making him proud today.

Suddenly there was a flash before his eyes and then he was standing next to the bush with Maria. “You can open your eyes now.”

When she did she was smiling happily. “Wow.” She started for a hug but then hesitated and decided against it.

“You're doing great, Maria.” He didn't let go of her hand, because she would have to do it again very soon. And he also liked the way her warmth moved on to him. He always felt less cold when she was around.

“Even though I didn't get it right the first time?” She looked down at their hands but then quickly back up to him.

“Are you kidding? Usually my students need at least a dozen tries before they get anything done.” And that was with spells to help them.

”Really?” Maria smiled proudly, then she cocked her head. “How many tries did you need?”

“What do you think?”

She thought about it for a moment. “One?” she tried.

Michael nodded, then hesitated. She deserved to know the truth. “Alright no, actually it was five.”

She smirked at him. “Five?” She couldn't believe she did better than her own teacher.

“Yeah, you know, my teacher had this way of distracting you with physical pain after a false try, so it was a little harder to concentrate.” He bit his lip and looked away.

“Your teacher? But I thought your dad…” she trailed off and bit her lip as well. “Oh.” Poor Michael. She couldn't imagine how it was to grow up with a powerful wizard. And obviously Hank had already been drawn to the dark side back then.

Michael shrugged. Why was he talking about it? She was his student, she didn't need to know that. Nobody did for that matter. He cleared his throat and then squeezed her hand. “Alright, it's no good to take a rest over initial success. You need more practise.”

”So I pick another bush?”

”So you pick another bush.” He gave her a small smile and watched her close her eyes and then furrow her brows in concentration till moments later there was the flash again and they were standing on another part of the meadow.

Maria grinned at him, squeezing his hand back. “Again?”

He just nodded, his smile a little brighter now. The past was done and over with. Right now, here in the present, he had this incredibly talented student and he shouldn't spoil her happiness by brooding.

She shifted them a couple more times, managing greater and greater distances with each try. Eventually they landed near the edge of the lake, and Michael decided it was time to truly test her. “Alright, this time I want you to shift us to that bush over there.” He pointed across the lake.

“But… but… but that's too far!” She pouted but at the same time cocked her head, trying to figure out the exact distance between them and the new bush. He just knew she wanted to try it, but she didn't fully trust her own abilities yet.

“No, it's not. You can do it. I know you can.” He gave her his most encouraging smile and squeezed her hand. It was a pretty far shift, especially for a novice on her first day, but he knew she could do it, if she concentrated hard enough.

Smiling back uneasily, Maria took a last look at the bush before closing her eyes and mumbling something incoherent. Within seconds the flash came and then suddenly there was a loud splash and they landed in the middle of the lake.

********

Chapter Five

Michael let go of her hand to keep himself over water and glared at her, but she just smiled sheepishly. “Whoops.”

“Whoops? You shifted us right in the middle of the friggin' lake!” Michael growled and brought his fist down hard onto the water surface, making some of it splash into her face.

She visibly flinched and her smile vanished. Instead she was biting her lip. “Sorry.”

Michael sighed. He should have expected that. Really, he should. “No it's… it's okay. You just were not ready yet.” He shook his head, letting go of his anger. He had been so sure she could do it though.

“I told you it was too far.” She pouted.

“Yeah, I know.” He rolled his eyes and sighed again. “I still should have you shift back and forth across the lake till you can do it though.”

“What? But I'm going to get all soaked every time!” Maria huffed indignantly and Michael had to bite back a smirk. She was just really cute sometimes.

“That's the plan.” He wiggled his eyebrows and then started swimming to the shore, glancing back briefly to confirm that she was following him. Once he was back on land, he helped her out and couldn't help noticing how her clothes were clinging to her body like a second skin. He quickly swallowed and looked away. She was his student, he shouldn't have unprofessional thoughts about her.

When he had calmed down enough, he muttered a spell and waved his hand over himself. There was a whoosh of hot air, which effectively dried off his clothes. He smirked and turned back to Maria, who was gaping at him.

“That is so not fair.” She crossed her arms in front of her chest.

“What? Don't remember the spell? You should have read about it the first week you were with me.” He raised his eyebrows, already knowing she didn't. That was her big problem. She just didn't read and learn enough.

Maria bit her lip and looked down at the ground, shuffling her feet. “Uh…”

”But hey, it won't really do you any good, because you're shifting across this lake until you get it right.” Now he couldn't hide his grin anymore.

“You… you were serious about that?” She gasped.

“What? You think I'm joking?” Actually, he wasn't so sure if he was. The way she looked at him right now, he was tempted to just let it go, get her dried up and end the lessons for today. But he wouldn't do that with a male student. Damn, she was really getting to him. Next year he so wouldn't pick a female anymore.

She obviously resigned and shook her head, then reached out for his hand.

“Whoa! What do you think you're doing?” Michael quickly took a step back.

“I was gonna try again.” Maria frowned.

“Yeah. But without me.” He wasn't too keen on getting doused again. Besides, it would be easier for her to do it alone.

“But… but I feel better when you're with me.” There was the pout again and Michael was about to give in. But maybe it would be good enough if he just gave her a real reason to succeed.

“I tell you what. If you manage to shift yourself over the lake within the next hour, I'm going to pay you a drink at that favorite bar of yours. How's that?”

“That depends.” She cocked her head. “Would you have a drink with me?”

“Uh, I guess that depends on if you'd want me to.” He shrugged a little confused.

“Yes.” Maria smiled brightly at him. “Okay, for that I risk getting even wetter.” She stopped and looked down at herself. “Not like that's even possible though.” She glared at him, as if it was suddenly his fault that she was dripping wet.

“I'll see you on the other side.” Michael winked and quickly shifted away. It had been too tempting to follow her gaze and once again admire her body. He had to watch it because he almost landed in the water himself now.

He shook his head and passed his hands through his hair, watching her on the other side. He really had to find a way to stop these thoughts from invading his brain. Maria waved at him and although he didn't wave back, he found himself smiling. Aside from being the clumsiest, most infuriating student he had ever had, she also managed to make him smile more than anybody else.

Still lost in his thoughts, Michael was surprised when she was suddenly standing right in front of him, beaming proudly. “Do I get two drinks now?”

Michael laughed. “Sure. I'll even buy you two drinks and a sandwich now.” He chuckled and shook his head, not believing this had just actually happened. He never thought she'd make it over on her first try alone. Not after they landed in the water before. But hey! That was his girl. He smiled proudly, wishing some of the other wizards could have seen her now too.

She smiled and nodded, stroking a wet strand of hair out of her face. “So we're going right now?”

He nodded and took her hand back in his. “You wanna bring us over?”

Her eyes grew wide and she quickly shook her head. “Please don't make me.”

“But you just made it on your own. Shifting with me is no real difference, you should know that by now.” He smiled.

“I do.” Maria gave him a stern look. “I do know that it is a big difference. Especially now after I crash-landed us once already. The pressure is so big, I just know we'll take a bath again.”

Michael looked at her for a few seconds, considering his options. She was probably right. And she did pretty well already. Better than all his other students before. Better than him. “Alright. But we're gonna try again tomorrow.” He shrugged a little and shifted them over the lake and further away, to a path that would lead directly to Din's Tavern.

“Thanks.” She let out a relieved sigh and they started walking, still holding hands. After a minute or so, Maria glanced at him from the side. “Hey, uh, Michael?”

”Yeah?” He stopped and looked at her.

“You think I could trade in the sandwich for the spell to dry me off?” She bit her lip and passed her hand through her still wet hair.

Michael chuckled softly. “You really don't remember, do you?”

She shook her head and sent him a pleading look.

“Alright, but since we'll try again tomorrow, I expect you to know it by then.” He mumbled the spell and waved his hand over her, producing the same hot winds which had dried him off before. But he made sure to mumble it so silently, that she had no other choice than to look it up again herself. And she better knew what book to turn to for her search, because the next day he wouldn't be so forgiving and let her go home wet, no matter if it was cold or not.

Maria mumbled something incoherent herself now, so Michael raised his eyebrow. “Thanks.” She rolled her eyes and passed her fingers through her hair, making the locks fall more loosely around her shoulders.

He smirked and started walking again, glancing over his shoulder once to make sure she was following him. Somehow he missed holding her hand. But only because then he always knew where she was, and he could be sure she wasn't playing any tricks on him behind his back. Yeah… That had to be it.

After slowing down his pace till they were even, Michael kept stealing glances at her. She didn't even know how much power she possessed, what a great magician she could become one day. But maybe it was better this way. Maybe she should never know. Power spoiled even the best of them. He experienced it first hand.

“What?” Maria frowned at him and Michael quickly looked away.

“Nothing.” Before she could nag him further, they had reached the tavern and he let out an inaudible sigh of relief. He could really use a drink now. “Alright, two drinks and no sandwich.” He gave her a look and almost smiled when she rolled her eyes.

“Sometimes you really suck, Michael.” She pouted.

“Okay, so I'll buy you a sandwich too, but you've gotta remember to call me Master whenever we're in public.” Stupid old rules. But he had to follow them or else they might take his students away from him. He was probably the most skilled of them all, but he was also still the youngest and some of those old jerks didn't like him at all.

“Right.” She rolled her eyes again. “Master.”

”You know, Maria. I think your sudden success today made you a little cocky.” He shook his head and tried his best to give her his sternest look. “Maybe tomorrow we better start on the laundry again instead of shifting.”

“What? But…” He didn't let her finish and entered the tavern instead. Something was definitely wrong with him today. He let too much slide. And now he had invited her to a drink? In a public tavern? What the hell had he been thinking? But then again, why not? She definitely deserved a reward for her shifting success today. So what if they landed in the water? The most important was that she had shifted them in the first place.

********

Chapter Six

Maria smiled as she entered Din's. Aside from her little stunt involving the lake she had had a pretty good day. Today's lesson had definitely been an improvement from the boring household chores he had her do, and all the stupid reading she was supposed to be doing every day. But she had to admit that she could have used that damn spell to dry herself off.

shit, she didn't even know where to start looking for it. Was he really going to let her shift them over the lake again tomorrow? She knew him, he would let her stay soaked for the whole rest of the day. He had been rather nice and relaxed today, but she didn't trust it yet. Tomorrow he would surely go back to ignoring her except for when he came by to yell.

But everything was so much easier when he was actually by her side. At least the shifting was. Her smile brightened and she almost missed Tess, who was waving at her from one of the back tables. “Oh, there's Tess!” She waved back enthusiastically.

“Who?” Michael turned towards her with a frown.

“Tess. My best friend Tess?” But she already knew that wouldn't ring any of his bells. How would he know her friends? He never stopped to get to know them, he always just dragged her away from them to yell some more.

“Oh.” He glanced around the tavern and scratched his eyebrow. “It's okay if you'd rather sit with her. I'll just go and sit at the bar and make sure your drinks get paid.”

Michael already turned to leave, but Maria held him back. “No wait, Michael…”

He gave her an alarmed look and she suddenly felt like the whole tavern had quietened down and everyone was staring at her. She knew she was imagining it, but still.

“Master.” She quickly bit her lip. “If you'd like to, uh, Master, I'd be pleased if you could come sit with us?” She wasn't really sure why she was inviting him, but somehow it felt wrong to have him sit alone after today.

“Are you sure?” He was about to scratch his eyebrow again, but then obviously thought better of it and instead glared at some folks staring at them. They all quickly averted their eyes. Yeah, that was the Master she knew.

“Yes.” She gave him a smile. “But only if it pleases you, Master.” She better played along. Although she felt pretty stupid right now.

“It would.” Michael smiled back and they walked over to the table already occupied by Tess and Kyle.

Michael was just as polite and friendly as he had been the day before when he met her mom. It really seemed as if he wasn't quite the tyrant she had first thought he'd be. But after three weeks in his service, today was the only day that she really started to get to know him.

Just as she was about to settle down though, Tess dragged her away. “Excuse us, we have to go use the Ladies'.”

Maria frowned. “But Tess…”

Her friend just glared at her and so she had no other choice but to accompany her. As soon as the door was closed behind them, Tess bounced up and down excitedly. “I got it, Maria. I got it!”

”Got what?” She was still frowning and crossed her arms in front of her chest before she leaned back against the wall.

“The potion! I got the potion, Maria!” Tess grinned giddily and produced a small vial out of her purse.

“What?” Her eyes grew wide. “I can't believe Alex gave in to you! Love potions are forbidden.” But ever since Tess had started to learn under Alex' guidance, all she kept talking about was how she found this old book about love potions, and how she desperately needed one. She secretly had had a crush on Kyle for months now but she was just too afraid to act on it.

“Shhh.” Tess placed her finger on her lips. “I know. That's why this is so going to work!” She started bouncing on her heels again.

“Tess, think about this…”

”Oh, shush. You keep telling me this every day. I did. I thought it all over, and I have to do this. It's Kyle.” Her eyes started to get that glazy look in them and Maria shook her head.

“Yeah, but don't you think if you'd just ask him…”

”No! No, no, Maria.” Tess shook her head, the panic evident in her voice. “I can't. I just… I can't.”

”But he'll…” Maria sighed. There had to be a reason why they forbade the potions in the first place.

“But I already have it!” Tess waved the vial back and forth. “And it's so gonna work!” She beamed.

Maria rolled her eyes. Hopeless. “But how did you get Alex to help you with this?”

”I didn't.” She smiled proudly. “I sneaked back into the library while he was taking a nap and then scribbled down the procedure, then sneaked back into the laboratory…”

”Okay, stop.” Maria covered her ears. “I don't think I want to know all of this.” If she didn't know, Michael couldn't grill her if he ever found out. Strangely enough, he and Alex were friends and occasionally hung out together. At least that was what she heard. Since they started their studies, all she knew about the great Alex she knew from Tess.

“So now all I have to do is mix it into our drinks tonight and then…”

”Wait…” Her frown was back. “Tonight? Tonight that Michael is here?”

“Oh, so now it's ‘Michael', huh?” Tess wiggled her eyebrows.

”Oh, shut up.” She rolled her eyes but couldn't fight the smirk from gracing her lips. It was just a whole new level to call him Michael, and not the tyrant, or slave driver, or any of the other names she had come up with in the short time of her service for him.

“Well, anyways. I have to do this tonight, or it won't work anymore. Apparently those love potions are fleeting little thingies and they'll lose their effect after a few hours already.”

“Huh.” Maria shrugged. She had no idea how potions worked. Sure, she had taken the basic class, like everybody else, but she quickly specialized on advanced magics and spells, while Tess found her calling in potions.

“You think Michael will notice?” Tess cocked her head.

“I dunno…” She bit her lip. “I have no idea how that works, Tess. This is your thing.”

”Well, I don't think he'll jump me right away…” She giggled and blushed. “Although that would sure be nice.”

”Tess!” Maria punched her arm but laughed along with her.

“No, really, I think it will start slowly. It's not like I used one of the sex potions.”

“They have those as well?” Her eyes grew wide and she felt kinda itchy just thinking about all the possibilities.

Tess just nodded. “You have no idea!”

“I can't believe Alex let you see this book.”

“Oh, he didn't. I just…”

Maria held her hand up and closed her eyes, shaking her head again. “I don't want to know any more about your illegal activities.”

“Fine, be that way.” Tess rolled her eyes and giggled again. “Just remember that when you come to me about a potion for you and Michael.”

“Tess! Don't even go there!” Maria laughed. Her and Michael. Yeah, that would be the day. That would be so wrong that… that… okay, so actually, he was kinda sexy. And it also had felt kinda nice when she had landed on top of him earlier. But still. This was her Master she was talking about. The tyrant.

Tess winked and put the vial back into her purse. “I guess tomorrow we'll know if it even works.”

“You know, as wrong as all of this is, I really hope it does, Tess.” She wrapped her arms around her friend and hugged her close. “Because you two just belong together.” But still, she was sure it would work out the normal way too. Kyle wouldn't say no to Tess. How could he? Her friend was such a sweet, loveable person. And she was hot too. What more could a man want?

“Thanks, Maria.” She smiled. “And if not, I'll just have to try again, with different ingredients.”

“You're the expert.” Maria laughed softly and let go of her, starting for the door. “So, we're finished here?”

“Yes, we're all done.” Tess nodded. “Thanks for coming in here with me.”

”Oh, like you would have left me much of a choice.” She chuckled and opened the door.

“I admit that's true.” Tess chuckled as well and they went back to their table, still laughing.

********

Chapter Seven

Michael was relieved when Maria came back. He had no idea what to talk about with this Kyle guy. And he obviously didn't either, so they had just sat there in silence, occasionally glancing at each other. But what was he thinking? He had no idea what to talk about with Maria either. In front of her friends in a full pub that was. This was such a mistake. Maybe he could just make a quick departure after all.

She sat down next to him with a smirk. “My day of work is over, right?”

”Your day of work? Maria, you're training to be a magician. Your learning process is never over.” Sometimes he really wondered how she got this far with that attitude of hers.

Maria rolled her eyes. “I was asking if I have to do any more chores for you, because if not, you go get the drinks.” She winked. “Master.”

He should just send her to get the drinks, and then have her wipe the floor of this dirt hole with her bare hands if she didn't remember a good cleaning spell. “I guess I'll get them.” He rolled his eyes as well, mostly at his own stupidity.

“No, wait!” Maria's blond friend jumped up from her chair. “I'll go get drinks for all of us.”

There was something about the way she accentuated it that had him suspicious, but she wouldn't go and poison him, would she? Well, she could try. Alex had long ago mixed him a nice cocktail that made him immune to all poison for life. Or at least that was what Alex had said.

“Oh, suuure.” Maria nodded vividly and the two girls exchanged knowing glances. This was getting weirder and weirder. Then she bumped him in the side. “Go give her some credits.”

Michael glared at her. “You will so clean my whole castle tomorrow.” But he fished out some coins and handed them to the over-eager blonde. Tess. Hopefully. He better shouldn't speak to her before he got the name confirmed.

Maria huffed. “What? Why?”

”Because your freedom today has obviously already spoiled you.” He shook his head. “So it's back to basic molecule manipulating spells for you. You should still remember those used for cleaning, don't you?” He gave her a cold smirk, certain that she didn't. She never remembered any spells. Of the minor ones that was.

She grumbled something and crossed her arms in front of her chest. “At least this way I won't get wet again.”

“Oh, we'll be shifting in the afternoon. Or late evening. Whenever you are done with your other duties.” Oh yes. And after tomorrow, she would respect him again.

Her mouth opened but her friend Kyle saved her from getting into even more trouble. “You shifted?” His mouth had dropped open and he was staring at them.

“Yes.” Maria smiled proudly. “And I did good.” She glanced at Michael. “Right?”

He couldn't help but smile back. “Yeah. A real natural.”

Kyle nodded, still gaping. “Wow. I wish I could learn that some day.”

“Who's your teacher?” Michael scratched his eyebrow.

“Mistress Isabel.”

Michael hissed. Damn. That poor boy was sure in for a lot. Isabel was a great teacher at times, but she was also very, very frustrated. She was about twenty years older than him but still rather young looking. She had tried to tempt him quite a few times, and she'd always turned into a real witch when he turned her down. No, he and Isabel were not on good terms. “That's uh… nice.” He forced a polite smell for the poor young boy.

“Do you know her?” Kyle leaned closer.

“We met.” But nobody here at this table needed to know any more of this.

“Really? I wonder why she never talked about you. She talks a lot, sometimes.” He shrugged.

Michael smirked. “Oh, she's probably calling me different names.”

“Oh.” Kyle frowned.

Just before any of them could question him further – Maria had suddenly seemed very intrigued – the blonde came back with their drinks.

“You won't believe how long it took me to get some ale in this damn tavern. They only stopped ignoring me when I mentioned one of them is for you, Master.” She looked at the glasses and squinted her eyes, then finally passed them out.

“You sure you gave me the right one?” Michael looked at her bemused. Seriously, if the girl wouldn't look so harmless, he'd be sure she was trying to poison him.

“What?” Her eyes grew wide and she looked at Maria alarmed.

“He was just kidding.” Maria elbowed him again. “Right, Master?”

”Yeah…” Michael frowned. Okay, really. What the hell was going on here? Why was the cute blonde so nervous? “You know, maybe I should really go sit by the bar.” Maybe he was just too intimidating. He had that effect on people. Usually, he loved that power, but right now he really wished he wasn't so… infamous.

“Oh, no, please.” The girl shook her head. “I'm just… it's not really my day.” She smiled and sat down next to Kyle, moving her chair a little to sit closer. Then she glanced at him to see if he had noticed, but Kyle was still lost in his thoughts. Yeah, the curly blonde was obviously nervous, but not because of him.

Michael nodded knowingly and was surprised when she handed him back his credits.

”He said it was on the house.”

He shrugged and stuffed them back into one of his many coat pockets. “Thanks.” There, she was honest. She wouldn't poison his drink. He was really getting paranoid.

“Does that mean I get three drinks?” Maria smirked at him, but it quickly vanished when he raised his eyebrow. “I guess that's a no.”

Michael gave her a firm nod. He should have expected that one coming though.

“Oh wait! Now I know who you are!” Kyle snapped back to life. “Did you meet her in Cruceas?”

”Yeah.” Michael cringed. On their first meeting she had locked them into a small room and then stripped them off all their clothes and… no, he really didn't want to think about it anymore.

“Man, no offense …” Kyle pushed his drink around, looking uncomfortable. “But why didn't you just leave her alone that night?”

”Excuse me?” Michael frowned.

“You know, after she already told you she wouldn't want to, you know, then you still lock her in and try luring her by…” He glanced around and then trailed off, obviously not wanting his female friends to hear the rest. Whatever that would have been. Michael wouldn't know, because this was utter nonsense.

“That's what she's told you?” He laughed a little. Yeah, figures though. Good old Isabel.

“Yes.“ Kyle raised an eyebrow.

“Oh well, I guess whatever she says must be the truth.” Michael chuckled. But just wait until their next meeting. Maybe he should better bring a witness with him then.

“What did you do?” Maria leaned a little closer to him.

“Nothing.” Michael passed his hands through his hair. “That was her problem.”

“Oooh.” She nodded, slowly at first, then she broke into a grin. “Yeah, I guess then I'd be frustrated too.” Realizing what she just said, Maria's face turned beet red and she started to stutter. “Uh, I mean… er, not, uh…”

Michael was too dumbstruck to help her out. He wasn't sure if he wanted to either. She was just adorably cute. He smirked.

Then her friend came to the aid. “Oh well, let's drink before it gets warm.” She raised her glass and smiled at Maria, who quickly picked hers up as well. “To ale.”

Kyle picked his glass up as well. “May we never run out of it.” They all chuckled and then took a big gulp each, followed by Michael, who hesitatingly took a sip as well. Again he felt like he was intruding their group, but they all smiled at him when they sat their glasses back down.

All, except for Maria, who was still blushing and looking down at the table. But her friend jumped in for her again. “So, uh, Master Michael?“ She cocked her head. “You're not much older than we are, how come you're already a Master and get your own students?”

“I'm older than I look.” Michael chuckled, but then shrugged. “I'm just good.”

“Yeah, but still, why don't you teach at the school? I mean, Alex is good, but I am the first private student he was allowed to have.” She held her glass up for Kyle to toast with her before taking another sip of it.

“Yeah, but I'm better.” Michael gave her a cocky grin. Seriously, how could this girl not know who he was? He was infamous all over the plane. Or so he thought.

She raised her eyebrow and was about to say something else, when Kyle elbowed her in the side. “Him and Maria shifted today!”

“So?”

“Geeze, Tess!” Kyle elbowed her yet again and thankfully now Michael got the blonde's name confirmed. “Maria. Shifted.”

”What? You shifted all alone?” Her eyes grew just as wide as Kyle's had been before and she stared at Maria. “And you didn't tell me yet?”

Maria smiled, still blushing, but at least now she was looking up. “Yeah, well, you didn't give me the chance for it yet.”

Tess pouted, but then laughed and grabbed Maria's hands over the table. “So we have both made great progress today!”

“Progress?” Kyle frowned. “Where have you made progress?”

”Uh…” She bit her lip and glanced down at her ale. "I, uh...“

“She found a nice potion for her hair. Don't you notice how it's extra shiny today, Kyle?” Maria winked at Tess and the guy stared at her dumbfounded. Then he finally nodded.

“Oh. Oh, yeah. Looks real good, Tess.” Kyle grinned and now it was Tess' turn to blush.

Michael just frowned. “Extra shiny, huh?” He had never heard of a potion like that, but maybe that was a girly kind of thing. Suddenly Maria elbowed him and when he turned to glare, she glared right back at him and shook her head. What? What now? He sighed and took a large gulp of his ale. Why did they have to be so damn confusing?

The whole situation remained tensed at first, but after two more beers, Michael stopped thinking of himself as the older teacher and Kyle and Tess lost some of their initial awestruck respect for him. That had been no problem with Maria. Ever. No, as much as he would have liked it sometimes, she never showed him quite as much respect as she should have.

He glanced over at her when she was laughing about some joke Kyle had just told. No, she was a disrespectful wildfire. But that was why he liked her so much more than any of the other students he'd trained before. That, and because she was just so damn cute when she pouted. And she pouted a lot when he gave her orders. Which brought him right back to her utter lack of respect for him.

“What?” She was looking at him oddly now and Michael realized she caught him staring at her.

“Nothing.” He quickly glanced away, then stood up. “Next round's on me again.” It would have been Maria's turn, but hey, he sort of had invited her here to begin with.

Without waiting for any reaction, he went away to get more drinks. A nice escape. Maria smiled at him when he came back and he assumed she'd get back to his staring, but to his surprise she didn't say anything, she just smiled.

So he and Kyle went back to discussing the last season of turfball while the girls rolled their eyes but occasionally joined in to comment on which player looked ‘hot'. As if it was any important how they looked, as long as they could hit the ball.

Much later that night they left the tavern. Tess insisted Kyle had to bring her home, because she felt scared all of a sudden. She mumbled about a bad omen and the foam of her ale or something, but when Michael had offered to bring her instead, she had almost violently refused. After a kick from Maria, he had shrugged it off. Whatever.

So now they were alone. After they had taken a few steps, Michael turned towards her. “Hey, Maria? You think you could shift us back to my castle.”

“Me? What? Why?” She panicked.

“I think I'm too plastered. I might crash straight into the wall or something.”

“But who tells you I won't? I… I am just as plastered.”

“Maria. After your first beer all you drank was blackberry juice mixed with water.”

“But… but…”

“Come on. At least till the end of the way.” Michael pointed towards the far end, where the trees got thicker so you could barely see anything. But they had walked this way countless times, so it shouldn't prove any difficult.

Maria seemed to be considering it. At least she cocked her head and glanced in the appropriate direction.

He raised his eyebrow and took her hand, squeezing it softly. She shrugged and a millisecond later they were standing amidst the black oak trees.

Maria smirked at him satisfied and Michael nodded. “Alright. Now we're either doing this twenty more times, or you concentrate on any room in my castle…” He hesitated for a second. “Make that any large room… and then shift us straight.”

Maria seemed sceptical and just brought them a little further down the road, to where she could still see.

“Minus one. That's nineteen left.” Michael smirked, seeing her huff as expected.

“So I just picture a room?” She asked.

“Yep.”

“Any room?”

“Any that's easiest for you.”

Maria closed her eyes and he shut up, deciding it would be better this way. He kept watching her closely though. He could tell she was really concentrating and not just faking it.

Only seconds later he could feel them shifting. He was holding his breath that his trust in her was justified and they wouldn't end up straight against a brick wall, or worse, inside of one.

But all went well. Except for him crashing right into his nightstand, toppling over and taking her with him. “Ow, fuck!”

“Ouch!” It hit Maria the hardest, because she landed underneath him and was immediately crushed by his weight. She glared up at him, but then, the longer she glared, the more her gaze softened. He was so close, so very close. And s.hit was he warm! She stroked over his arm mesmerized.

Michael gazed down at her, equally awestruck. “I'm… I'm…” Sorry. Sorry? Was he? If he really thought about it – and thinking was admittedly very hard right now – then no. No, he really wasn't sorry.

His gaze dropped to her lips. Her full, supple lips. And he couldn't help but lean down and capture them with his own. His eyes were closed and for the briefest moment he felt truly happy. But then he jerked back, staring down at her in shock. A gesture which was very well reciprocated.

But only for a second. Then Maria wrapped her arm around his neck and pulled him back down, crushing their lips in a bruising kiss.

This was all it took for Michael to snap. He buried a hand in her hair and pushed up her skirt with the other, touching her bare thigh. Mmm, her skin was soft. He smirked against her lips and when they broke for air, he used the opportunity to nibble on her bottom lip and then suck it between his lips. They were so full and soft. Every time she pouted, he secretly wanted to do just that. Lean down and kiss her, then bite into her evil lip. Not to hurt her of course, but they were just so… suckable.

Maria moaned and buried her hands in his hair. Her breathing was so laboured, way more than his own. For a second her wondered if she was all right, but when he pulled back to check on her, she protested immediately. “Don't… don't stop!” She shook her head and licked over his lips till he granted her access.

And Michael had no intention of stopping this. No, he had wanted this for way too long now, he needed to get it out of his system. Maybe then… oh, whatever. He didn't want to think about the consequences right now. He just wanted her. And nothing else mattered.

In the blink of an eye he had shifted them onto his bed. Maria broke the kiss confused and frowned at him. “I thought you couldn't shift anymore?”

He just smirked at her. “Guess I lied.” What? Everything was allowed when it came to teaching her. All the common tactics failed, so he had to fall back to trickery. She opened her mouth to protest but Michael didn't give her the chance and instead just crushed his lips down onto hers again, effectively shutting her up.

His hand wandered to her back and he broke the kiss to mutter a small spell which opened the bindings of her dress immediately. She gasped when she could feel it falling away but when he kissed her again, she calmed down enough for him to completely rid her off the offending garment.

Maria went to cover her breasts but Michael shook his head. “No. You're beautiful.” He cupped her cheek and gave her a soft kiss, then, with his gaze focused at her, he first took off his coat and then pulled his shirt over his head.

She bit her lip and blushed. Michael smiled. She really was just too cute. If she was any younger, he'd even think she was still a virgin. But that couldn't be, could it? Nah, she'd say something. Make him stop. But she didn't so he covered her body with his own and slid his hand between her legs, intending to make her relax again. And he did. Within seconds her head was thrown back in abandon and she was moaning in pure pleasure while she moved back against him wantonly. Yes, this was going to be a fun night.

********

Chapter Eight

Early the next morning Maria rolled over in bed, frowning when she bumped into something solid. Something solid that smelled good. She slowly opened her eyes and gasped when she saw Michael. She quickly shuffled back and when she didn't fall out of her small bed, she realized that this wasn't her bedroom at all, no, this was Michael's. Michael's. Holy crap!

And she felt kinda… naked. Maria bit her lip and then dared to look under the covers. shit! She looked back over at Michael, cocked her head and then dared another glance under the covers, this time in his direction. She couldn't help the grin from spreading on her face, and with it came a deep blush, because the memories of last night slowly came back to her. The tings he had done with… with that. Hell, the things she had done with it… with him… oh damn!

Her mother would kill her. Kill her and then disown her and then kill her all over again. Yeah… or she'd start planning the engagement party and happily welcome Michael into their family. After she had killed him for deflowering her baby girl. Oh god! Maria groaned, suddenly painfully aware of just that little fact. If possible she just blushed two shades redder.

Why had they done that? Okay, she knew why she had, but why had he? She was… she was his student. Just a girl. Michael the Dragon could get anybody, why would he pick her? But maybe that was the point. He could get anybody and now had been her turn. And now that it was over, he'd go right back to being the mean teacher. No more drinks at Din's. Just ‘clean my cloak, Maria' and ‘polish the silver, Maria'. Oh no, oh no, oh no!

But then again… the more she remembered, the more she came to the conclusion that maybe it had been worth it after all. She smirked, her whole body tingling blissfully all over again. Oh yeah, the things he had done with that. But they weren't anything compared to the things he had done with his hands. Or his lips. Oh, his beautiful lips… She reached out for them but didn't dare to touch him. He looked so peaceful when he slept. And so damn beautiful.

shit, she had to get out of here! She grabbed the sheets and pulled them tight against her chest and then carefully climbed out of bed. Now all she had to do was grab her clothes and then…

“Maria?” Oh shit! Busted! She slowly turned around again.

“Y..yes?”

”Where are you going?” He rubbed his eyes and frowned. God, he was so cute.

“Uh, I was just…” Maria bit her lip. Now what could she tell him? She pointed towards the door.

“Come back here.” He pointed at the mattress, right at the spot beside him. And when she followed his hand, she realized that she had taken the whole blanket with her and that left him with nothing… She averted her eyes but then crumbled and had to look again.

“Uh…”

“Maria.” His voice was stern now, making her painfully aware that this was still Michael, her Master Michael.

“Okay…” She made sure to wrap the sheets around herself tightly before she hoppled back onto the mattress, staying as far away from him as possible. “Sorry.”

“What?” His frown deepened and he passed his hands through his hair. “No, it's… I should apologize.” He looked down at his hands and then obviously realized himself that he was missing his clothes, because he quickly grabbed for her sheets and successfully loosened them so he could cover up his crotch. Then he looked at her and it was Maria's turn to realize something. He was just as confused as she was.

“Uhm, so…” Maria looked away.

“So?”

“I should probably go home.”

Michael didn't say anything, he just looked at her.

“Before my mom sends out the search troops.” Maria added with a weak smile.

“Your mom?” His eyes grew wide. “shit!”

“Yeah…” This was almost kinda funny. “shit.” She nodded.

“Let me come with you, I can explain.” Michael scratched his eyebrow and then started to look around the floor. Then suddenly he reached out his hands, mumbled something, and his pants appeared right next to him. Damn! Maria really should pay more attention to all those nifty tricks he performed, because just that one would come in very handy for herself right now as well.

“Explain? What do you want to tell her?” She raised her eyebrow, watching closely as he tried to pull on his pants and keep the short part of the sheets over his crotch. Much to her amusement, he failed. She had to bite her cheek to not start grinning like an idiot. This was a serious situation. Serious.

Michael shrugged. “Uh, I… I don't know.” By now he was wearing his pants again so he jumped out of the bed. “I'll think of something.” He scratched his eyebrow.

Maria shrugged as well. Whatever. Right now she wasn't able to think. Her mind was racing with a million different thoughts but somehow it also felt just blank. Hollow. This all just… it sucked. She swallowed hard.

Meanwhile Michael was busy assembling clothes from the floor. When he came to her bra he held it delicately between his thumb and forefinger. “I believe this is yours?”

He had to ask? Just how many other women did he have in here? That bastard! She just glared at him and yanked it out of his hands. Soon she had all of her clothes in her lap and he was looking at her expectantly. “What?” She snapped. “You won't get to see me naked, so leave already.”

”But Blondie, I already saw…”

”Don't even go there.” She clenched her eyes shut tightly and waved off.

“But…” He tried again, but it was futile. After a more than icy glare from Maria, he finally left his bedroom so she could change while Michael was pacing outside the closed door.

He just couldn't believe what had happened. How could he have been so reckless? Have sex with a student! Oh, Isabel would love to hear that. They all would love to hear that. They'd have him out of the university in no time and that'd be it then. His life wouldn't have purpose anymore. Without his teachings, then what was he supposed to do? Hang around in taverns and whorehouses all day?

And why was she so distant this morning? She obviously regretted what had happened between them. More than he did. No, that was slightly wrong. Even though it could cost him everything, he couldn't seem to regret it. Not all of it at least. He deeply regretted not having been more gentle. Not waiting. Not asking her. But how could he have known?

But he should have, that was the point. She was only a peasant girl, she grew up in a nice home with a caring mother. Of course she was still a virgin. Had been. Oh crap! She would never forgive him, would she? Hell, they wouldn't even kick him out of university, they'd kick him out of the whole district, chasing him with flocks and torches. His reputation didn't matter anymore. He deflowered an innocent girl. And he enjoyed it too!

Michael stopped and banged his head against the wall. And if he could do it all over again, he still would. Hell yes, he would! But slower, of course. At first at least. But then… shit, this was Maria. She had kept pace like no other before. How could she have been a virgin? Last night had been beyond explosive, so how could she regret this?

Just when he was about to bang his head against the wall once again, the door opened and she came back out. Even with her hair totally dishevelled, she had still never looked just as pretty as right now. And it had never hurt him as much just to gaze at her.

“So… take me home.” She brushed a strand of hair behind her ears.

Michael nodded. “Okay. Don't worry, I'll think of something for your mother.” Unless she wanted to tell her what happened. How he had taken advantage of his helpless young student. Would she do that?

“It's okay, you don't have to…” She looked down at the floor. “Just take me home.”

“Uh, do you maybe want to eat something first? Or, uh, have a tea? Sage tea? Or… or… honeysuckle?” He just didn't want her to leave just yet. Not like this. Not before they had talked.

But Maria just shook her head, still not looking him in the eye.

“Okay then.” Michael sighed and went over to her, taking her hand in his. But she flinched back.

“What… what are you doing?”

“Taking you home?” What did she think he was doing? Drag her down to his dungeon and lock her there? Hmm, maybe he should…

“But… but why are you so close and touching me?” She bit her lip and stared at his hand now. Was this an improvement from staring at the floor or not? Michael wasn't sure.

“You remember that lesson about shifting? When I take you this far, I really need body contact.” But those were probably the wrong words, because just the mere thought made his blood boil. “Uh… to hold you hand, I mean.”

“Oh. Yeah… right.” She bit her lip again and smiled weakly, but at least she was finally looking up at him this time. Then she held out her hand. He didn't hesitate and took it in his right away. But then he didn't shift. No, instead he just held her hand, marvelling at the softness.

“Maria, I…”

”Don't, Michael.”

He leaned closer unconsciously and maybe he was going crazy now, but he could have sworn she did the same. “Please.” He couldn't say more. There was so much he had to plead with her about.

“Michael…” Their eyes locked and he cupped her cheek, carefully brushing his thumb over the smooth skin. She didn't pull away. Not even when he leaned even closer. So close that their lips touched. It was just a short, soft kiss. But neither of them dared to move away so it turned into a new one, deeper and much hungrier.

Michael closed his eyes and before he could slip his tongue between her lips, she was already greeting him with hers. He smiled and moaned softly, pulling her closer, pressing their lower bodies together. Oh yes, this was what they should have done right after waking up.

But just as suddenly as it had started, it ended. She pushed him away and then slapped his face. He could do nothing more but stare at her. His mind was blank. What…? Why?

“Can you please just take me home now?” She took his hand again and squeezed it a little. He had no idea why. “Please?”

He nodded. Yeah. Whatever. Now it all didn't matter anymore. Nothing mattered. She had kissed him and then slapped him. Why? Why, why, why? He passed his free hand through his hair and then took a deep breath. Focus. He needed all his energy on shifting them right now. As confused as he was, he might just as well shift them anywhere but home.

Michael closed his eyes and pushed all his current thoughts away, only focusing on one thing. Her house, her mother and the fields around it. Then he felt it. The shift. When it was over he waited a few more seconds before he dared to open his eyes. Thankfully he was good. No, he was the best. He had brought them right to her doorstep and as if on cue, Amy rushed out to enclose her daughter in a frantic hug.

“Maria! Oh my god, where have you been?” Amy DeLuca pulled back to give her daughter an accusing glare before she quickly pulled her tight again. “I was so worried! I was about to call the council and have them arrange a search party for you.”

”Mom!” Maria bit her lip and tried to free herself. Damn, now she felt even more guilty than before. “It's… I was just…”

“She was with me.” Michael stepped in and Maria's eyes opened wide in shock. Oh no! He wasn't going to tell her, was he?

”Michael, no!” She tried to free herself again and this time she succeeded.

“No, Maria, please let me explain.” Michael held out his hand to silence her. “As I said, she was with me.”

Amy frowned and cocked her head. “With you? But…”

”Yeah, you see, I had, uh, given her this assignment, and uh… I locked her in.” Michael passed his hand through his hair. A clear sign that he was nervous. Maria noticed, but thankfully her mother didn't know him as well. “And then I forgot about it and just went to bed, and now this morning when I went to my study room I found her there. She had fallen asleep over the book she was supposed to read. And uh, her first thoughts were about how worried you must be, so she insisted I bring her home right away.”

“Aw, baby…” Amy's eyes softened and she wrapped her arm around Maria's shoulders, giving her a quick peck on her temples. Maria just let her. All she could do was stare at Michael.

“So it's all my fault and please accept my sincerest apologies.” He passed his hands through his hair again. And throughout his speech he had taken as many steps away from them as possible without being suspicious. Oh, Maria had to admit he was good at that. Too good. Her eyes narrowed. Just how many times had he already done that? But then again, wasn't she his first female student?

“Oh, no, it's okay, Master Michael. If she was with you…” Amy smiled at him.

Michael flinched. “Oh she wasn't! I mean, she was in my castle, but not… not with me.” He shot a glance at Maria. “I mean, if she had been… I… I hadn't forgotten and I had made sure to get her home in time and uh….” Another pass through his hair. No, he wasn't really good at this at all, Maria concluded. He sucked.

She glared at him. “I think she got it now, Mich… Master.”

Michael looked at her again and nodded before passing his other hand through his hair. If he wouldn't stop doing that soon, she was gonna have to slap him. Again. Oh shit! Why, oh why had she slapped him before?

Amy was still smiling, oblivious to all. Until she frowned. “Wait… why did you lock her in?”

“Uh, so she'd study and not uh… get distracted by… other things?” He was obviously squirming now. And if this all wouldn't make Maria squirm as well, it might even be entertaining.

“So you're saying you need to lock her in so she reads?” Amy turned towards her daughter. “Maria! How many times have I told you how important it is to be a good student. To read and learn, and to use this incredible opportunity that's presented to you here.”

“But mom….” Hey!

“So maybe I wasn't always a good example to you, but Maria, I really want you to have a better life, you understand? You can be so much more than this.” She pointed towards their small cottage house.

“Mom…” Maria sighed. She had heard this so many times before. And she really didn't need to hear it again. Especially not now. And most especially not in front of Michael.

“But you have to study, Maria. You have to be a good student.” Amy looked over at Michael. “I'm really sorry for this. I promise Maria will be better from now on. Won't you, Maria?” She squeezed her daughter and nodded towards Michael. What now?

“Uh… yes?” Maria frowned.

“Maria! You go and apologize to your Master now!”

“Oh, Miss DeLuca, this really isn't necessary, and uh…” Michael scratched his eyebrow and looked down at the ground.

“Oh no, I think it is.” Amy placed her hands on her hips. “Maria.”

Maria knew that look she was receiving now. Her mother wouldn't stop until she got her way. She sighed. “I am sorry, Master.” Argh! She ground her teeth and gave him her most iciest glare. “I promise to be a better student from now on.”

Michael just nodded, passing his hands through his hair. Both of them this time. If she could, she'd strangle him right now. “Uh, it's okay, Maria. Really. I know you are.” He looked at her with a mixture of regret and embarrassment showing in his eyes. But it wouldn't work. Maria still just wanted to kill him. Slow and painfully.

“Good, then it's settled.” Amy smiled satisfied. “Do you want to come in and have breakfast with us, Master Michael?”

“Oh no, it's okay Miss DeLuca. I uh, I never eat breakfast.” He raised his hands but then folded them in front of his body. Good. One more pass through his unruly locks and Maria would have jumped down there and strangled him. Yes she would.

“Oh.” Amy seemed really disappointed. Maybe she thought Michael wouldn't eat with them because her house was too shabby. Right now Maria felt sorry for her. Almost enough to insist that Michael stayed. But she wouldn't live through it. “Okay then. I guess I'll see you when you bring Maria back this evening?”

Maria's eyes grew wide. Bring her back? Back from where?

”Oh, no! She has the day off, to uh, make up for my mistake last night.”

Maria's heart fell. A mistake. That was all it had been? A mistake?

“What? No.” Amy shook her head. “Maria, you have to learn.”

“Mom.” She didn't know what else to say. She just wanted to be alone right now.

“No, it's fine. She has the day off.” Michael was already retreating, but then he stopped again. “Maria?” He waited till she met his gaze before he continued. “I am really sorry.” And with that he vanished and Maria was left to stare at the empty space where he had just been standing only seconds ago. Michael. Her Master. The man she had lost her virginity to. The bastard who had just called this very act a mistake. As if it had been nothing. She swallowed hard. She'd never forgive him. Never.

********

Chapter Nine

Michael wasn't gone for long when Amy turned towards her daughter again. “I'll grant you breakfast and a shower, then you're going back there to learn.”

”But mom!” Maria whined. “He gave me the day off!” And she wanted to do anything but go back there. Ever.

“He might, but I won't.” Amy remained strict. “And trust me when I say it's best for you.”

Maria closed her eyes and let out a frustrated sigh. “If you say so.” There was just no arguing with her. It was already hard enough when Maria was fully up to it, but right now she just felt crappy and defeated and all she wanted to do was crawl underneath the sheets of her own bed and stare at the ceiling.

“I do.” Amy hugged her again. “But first I'm going to make you a really good breakfast with all your favourite foods, how's that sound?”

“Honey waffles?” Maria slowly opened her eyes again and cocked her head, smiling a little when Amy nodded.

“And raspberry tea.” Her mother smiled at her and Maria's turned into a real smile now.

“Thanks. You're the best, mom.” She kissed her on the cheek and then brushed past her to enter the house. Honey waffles and raspberry tea. And she was sure there'd even be cinnamon cookies in the oven for her when she got back from her shower. Just what she needed right now. Aside from her bed and calmth. She just couldn't be angry with her mother for much longer, because Maria knew she meant well. And hey, she was going to prepare her favourite breakfast. “I'll be upstairs taking a shower.”

”Okay, honey.” Amy closed the front door and walked into the kitchen while Maria rushed upstairs to turn on the hot water.

Oh yes, a shower. If she was honest, that was really what she needed the most right now. Because even if she wanted to forget last night, her aching muscles made that impossible. Not like she wanted to forget it though. However, she really wanted to forget this horrible morning after.

Maria sighed and stripped off her clothes, throwing them into the corner before she stepped under the spray of hot water. She knew she couldn't take long because heating the water was expensive, but she couldn't help stalling time a bit today. She'd make up for it the rest of the week.

The odd thing though was, that she didn't feel dirty. Or ashamed, or any of that. She knew she should, but last night had been so good, so blissful, so happy, she couldn't find anything wrong with it. So what if he was her teacher and not her husband. And hey, maybe one day…

Maria's eyes flew open and she turned the water on cold. Shock therapy. Just what she needed right now. All these inappropriate thoughts about Michael were what got her into trouble in the first place. But why did he have to be so young and sexy? Couldn't they have given her a lame, old master? Or better yet, a woman? Maybe… maybe she should ask Kyle if he'd trade. She and Isabel now had something in common…

But no, this was silly. Kyle specialized in powders and magical wardrobe, there was no way he could learn that from Michael. Any hey, she wouldn't let this one night ruin her whole life. Michael was the best teacher for her. She knew that, her mom knew it, everyone was jealous of her. Most especially Liz. It had been a close decision between the two of them in the end, Maria knew that too. And Liz had never forgiven her for being chosen over her. Ever since she even got mad at poor Max when he hung out with her and Kyle and Tess.

Tess… Tess! Tess was the solution. After breakfast Maria would leave the house, alright. But she wouldn't go back to the castle. Not today. She couldn't. Instead she'd meet up with Tess and maybe she could help her through this.

Maria nodded determinedly and turned the hot water back on. She hadn't even realized that she was shivering until just now. She shuddered and quickly finished up so she could maybe spend at least five minutes under her precious sheets before it was time to face her mom again.

An hour later she had finished breakfast and her mom send her on the way to Dragon's Lair Castle. With a bag of cinnamon cookies for the Dragon himself. Maria just smiled and waved her mom goodbye. Tess would sure love these cookies. And Michael wouldn't see any of it. He didn't deserve cookies. He deserved… oh, Maria wasn't sure anymore. In a way, she was just as to blame for last night as he was. After all she had never tried to stop him, no, if he had stopped, she would have forced him to go on.

Oh god what was she doing? Sleeping with her master. This could get her kicked out of the whole program. She would never be allowed to practice magic anymore. And this couldn't happen. It couldn't.

When she finally arrived at Tess' house, nobody was home. Maria sighed deeply and was just about to give up and go straight to Din's when one of the younger students living in the next house looked out the window.

“Looking for Tess?” The young boy asked her.

“Yeah. Do you know where she is?”

”She's at her Master's place. She left early today.”

”Oh.” Maria's face fell. Dammit.

“Hey… aren't you Maria?” The boy suddenly seemed excited and Maria frowned. Why did he know her?

”Uh, yes.”

”So you study with the Dragon?” He almost fell out of the window now.

“Yeah.” Maria bit her lip. She didn't want to talk about Michael with a twelve-year-old.

“Man, that must be so awesome.” He stared off into the sky now. “Is he really as big as they say?”

”What?” Maria's voice cracked and she blushed deeply. What in the name of all that's holy… No wait… The kid must be talking about his size. Michael's, not… not… her blush grew even worse.

“Is he?”

“No.” She briskly shook her head and then turned and walked away without another word. Could this day get any worse?

Halfway to Din's Tavern Maria changed her mind. If Alex was really such a great master as Tess kept saying, then maybe he would let them have a quick word together. And if not, then she could still go and wallow in self-pity.

She had to ask a few peasants for directions on her way but eventually located Alex' castle. The Whit's Castle. The name always made her wonder, but it wasn't her place to judge a Master. Except Michael, but he didn't count. It was smaller than Michael's and it looked a lot friendlier too. No dark gargoyles looming from above and most of it was held in light colors. Maybe Tess was right.

Maria smiled and used the handle to knock on the door. She didn't have any time to second guess her decision because almost right after her knock, Alex opened the door with a smile. Now this was something else he didn't have in common with Michael.

“Hello, what can I do for you?” Alex was smiling widely.

“Uh, good day Master Alex. I came here because I, uh…” Maybe she should have thought about this sooner. Maria blushed. Dammit.

“Yes?” Alex cocked his head and looked her up and down, then he suddenly pointed at her. “Oh, you're Maria, right? Michael's gal?”

“Uh.” She frowned. Michael's what?

”Did he send you to finally bring me back my book about growing alraunes? I swear I have no idea what he even wants with it. I mean, we all know he's gonna kill them either way.” Alex chuckled and all Maria could do was stare at him dumbfounded.

She bit her lip nervously and tried to take a glance into his castle. Where was Tess?

“Oh, but I don't see no book on you, eh?” Alex was still in a good mood. “So tell me, Maria, what brings you to my doorstep on a fine day like this?”

Fine day? Well certainly not for her. She sighed and wrapped her arms around herself. “Uh, I was wondering if Tess is around?”

He frowned. “Tess? Yeah, why? Oh wait, don't tell me! I know you're friends. Please excuse me for not thinking about this earlier.”

”Oh, Master, no! It's okay, it's…” Maria stared at him astounded. And this was Michael's friend? But he was… so damn nice.

“Tess!” Alex interrupted her by yelling for the other girl. “Tess come down here you have a visitor.” He was still smiling and now stepped aside and waved his arm to beckon Maria to enter. “Please, be my guest, fair lady.”

Maria blushed and bit her lip, but entered anyways. She could certainly see now why Tess was usually speaking fondly of her master. That was when she wasn't complaining about him hiding all the good books with the forbidden spells from her. “Thank you, Master.”

“Sure, sure.” He stepped further into the castle and Maria followed him. “I'm surprised we haven't met before, after all you're Michael's gal and Tess' friend all in one.”

She didn't know how to answer that. And why did he keep calling her ‘Michael's gal'? “Err…”

“So what brings you here today? Certainly not me, I assume?” He turned towards his large staircase and yelled Tess' name again, then shook his head. “She's probably snooping around for the hidden books again.”

Maria bit her lip to stop the grin and instead felt the need to defend her friend. “Oh no, I am sure she wouldn't do that. Tess is very, uh…” Thankfully Tess herself saved her from answering that one by appearing on top of the staircase right at that moment.

“Maria!” Tess squealed and took the steps in large jumps. “What are you doing here?” She was grinning till suddenly her face fell. “What's wrong?”

Maria blushed and bit her lip. “Nothing. Nothing's wrong. Why would you…” She stopped. Because she was her best friend and she could see something was up, that's why. Maria sighed. “I just wanted to pay you a visit.”

Tess cocked her head. “Right.”

”I brought cookies,” Maria answered helpfully, waving the bag.

“Oh, I'm gonna leave you two alone then. Tess, you know where everything is. Go and talk to your friend.” Alex stepped closer to Maria and took her hand in his before blowing her a gracious hand kiss. “It was a pleasure to have finally met you, Maria.” He winked and then went the way Tess had been coming from.

Maria was left staring after him dumbfounded. “Wow.” She shook her head. “And that is Michael's friend?” She still couldn't believe it. “I swear to you Tess, if you ever rant about him again…”

Tess rolled her eyes. “Oh please. You just met him for five minutes. Try getting some of the better books from him, then you'll meet the tyrant.”

”You mean the books with the forbidden spells and recipes?” She raised her eyebrow with a smirk.

Tess shrugged. “Hey, I am here to learn. Shouldn't I learn everything then?”

Maria chuckled. Yes, it had definitely been the right decision to come here. Talking to Tess always helped, even if they hadn't even touched the issue yet. And actually… Maria really rather wanted to avoid that now. “Speaking of…” She lowered her voice. “How'd last night go?”

Her friend pouted, which told Maria everything she needed to know. “Let's go sit down, okay?” Tess led her into a large room filled with bookshelves and a couple deep green, comfortably looking armchairs. They sat down in a larger one next to each other.

“Wow.” Maria looked around. “Why aren't the books where the lab is?”

Tess rolled her eyes. “Because these are all his private collection. None of them is potion related. Believe me, I have checked.”

Maria chuckled. “Why are you so eager to learn the darker magic anyways? I mean, it obviously doesn't work, does it?”

”Don't remind me.” Tess sighed again. “Not even a peck on the cheek. Nothing. Why didn't he kiss me, Maria? He should have done so much more!”

She shrugged. “I don't know. Maybe it takes a day. Maybe you got an ingredient wrong, maybe you mixed up…” Maria froze. Oh my god! What if she had mixed up the glasses! That explained… that… “Oh my god!” She paled.

“What?” Tess shook her urgently. “What, Maria? What is it? Why didn't it work?”

“It did.” She put her arms on Tess' to keep her from shaking her any further.

“What do you mean ‘it did'? Did Kyle call you? Is that why you're here?” Tess was suddenly very giddy. “Did he talk to you? Did he profess his undying love to me? Did he…” She stopped and cupped Maria's face in her palms. “No wait. You look like crap. So nothing good has happened. Why did you pale? Maria…?” Her voice raised expectantly. “Why did you say it worked?”

”Because…” Her voice grew faint. “Because it did.” Maria swallowed. And it had all just been a magic trick. Michael would never have touched her otherwise. Of course he wouldn't have. Why would he? She was his student. She'd get expelled but even worse things would happen to him. And she knew how much teaching meant to him.


”What do you mean?” Tess started shaking her again. “What do you mean?”

Maria slapped her hands away. She knew Tess knew. She could see it in her eyes. “It… it worked.”

”Oh my god, Maria!” Tess jumped up. “What happened? Did Michael kiss you?” She was smirking now. Maria could just nod. “So? What's so bad about that? Is he a bad kisser?”

”N..no.” Maria had to smile a little. Oh no, he was anything but. His kisses… She shivered.

”So what's the problem? You kissed. Not like it's never happened before. I mean, look at him. He's The Dragon!”

“But he's my Master! I'm his student, Tess. I will have to see him again every day. Look into his eyes. Talk to him. Pretend nothing happened or forgive him. And I can't… I can't do any of that.” She sobbed.

”Oh, come on. Some kissing. Can't you pass it off at being drunk? I mean, we were at Din's and…”

”But it wasn't just that!” Maria bit her lip hard enough to draw blood. But she didn't want to break down. She didn't want to start crying. Not here, not now, not ever. A love potion. It had all been because of a stupid potion! It was meaningless. Magic. It was all false.

Now it was Tess' turn to pale. “What… what do you mean?” She wrapped her arms around her friend and hugged her close. “Maria?”

Maria couldn't stop it anymore. She hugged Tess back with all her might and started crying.

A few seconds later there was a loud knock on the door and they both froze. The voices echoed through the large hallway and ended up perfectly audible in their room. So they could hear Alex coming downstairs again to open the door.

“Michael? Man, you look like crap! What are you doing here?” Alex must have ushered him inside because there were footsteps. “You know, it's kinda funny. Just a few minutes ago I had a visit from your gal.”

Maria quickly straightened up and wiped the tears out of her eyes.

”Maria was here?” Michael's voice was hushed and sounded strained. But maybe that was just the acoustics playing tricks on her.

“No. She still is.” Alex answered. “At least I think she is…”

They could hear the footsteps coming closer and closer now and soon they were all in the same room.

“See? There she is.” Alex was smiling. Michael and Maria both looked like deer caught in the beam of a hunter. Tess looked back and forth between them awkwardly.

Maria swallowed hard, then she broke the silence. “Michael. I need to talk to you.”

********

Chapter Ten

Michael frowned and scratched his eyebrow. What was she doing here? And now she wanted to talk? But she was at The Whit's… If she wanted to talk to him, then why come to his friend? shit, had she already filed a complaint about him?

Alex was looking at him funny now. “Michael? Avoiding your student?”

He gulped and passed his hands through his hair. “Uh, no, I just…” He looked at Maria again. What?

Maria meanwhile had gotten up, ignored Tess' pleading look, and walked closer to Michael. “Please. It's important.”

Michael turned back to Alex. He came here to get his head straight and get some advise. It really wasn't good that she now wanted to talk to him before he even had a chance to talk to Alex.

“If you want you can stay here. Tess and me are going to retreat into the laboratory.” Alex shrugged. “Tess?” He held out his hand and she reluctantly got up, still looking intently at Maria.

“No!” Maria grabbed Michael's hand and he completely froze. “I just… I'm… I'm sorry.” And with that she shifted them both out of the castle and back onto the main road.

“Maria, what the hell?” Michael shook off her hand and glared at her. The sudden change of scenery had made him switch out of his stupor. He was tempted to just head back, because he really, really needed to talk to Alex now.

“I'm sorry.” She bit her lip and seemed shaken up all of a sudden. “I… I wanted to get us somewhere private but I was too scared to get us anywhere else.”

He closed his eyes and pinched the skin in top of his nose for a second. That's when he realized that she had just shifted the both of them, without him having to persuade her to do so. And in a tense situation no less. A quick smile hushed over his lips and he was proud of his student. But it passed as quickly has it had arrived and he scowled again. “And this is private?” He pointed at the milling peasants around them.

Maria blushed and shrugged.

Michael rolled his eyes and took her hand in his before he shifted them into his castle. Into his study. Although a large part of him had been very tempted to choose the bedroom instead. “Alright, now talk.” He walked around her and considered grabbing a drink. When she wasn't talking, he watched her closely and realized that she still looked shaken up and intimidated. Good. She should be.

He frowned. No wait. She shouldn't. He had made a mistake last night and now he was making her pay for it. He sighed and took a deep breath, his features softening. “Maria?” He cocked his head. “You didn't tell Alex, did you? Or anyone else?”

She bit her lip and refused to meet his gaze. Michael started to panic.

“The council? Oh dammit, Maria, did you already file a complaint?” He could see them coming for him with torches and pitchforks now. Her mother leading them on.

“What? No.” She quickly shook her head. “Why… why would I want to do that?”

He stopped, startled. “Because I… abused you last night?”

Maria frowned. “No you didn't.”

“But you… you slapped me this morning and wanted nothing more but leave. I thought…” After he had dropped her off at her mothers he couldn't stop obsessing about it anymore. He was close to going crazy when he finally decided to talk to his best and only friend.

“No, Michael!” She walked up to him and cupped his cheek, the same one she had slapped before. “I'm sorry for that. I was just… I was mad at myself mostly.”

”Why?”

”Because I kissed you?” She shrugged helplessly. “Again.”

”But I kissed you. I forced you to…”

”What?” Maria pulled back. “No, really, Michael. You didn't. Please don't think that! This is all my fault. All of this is.”

Now he was fully confused. And a little amused. “How was this your fault? It's not like you seduced me.” He had to smirk when his mind was picturing various scenarios of her doing just that. “On second thought…”

She glared at him. “Oh, don't smirk. This isn't funny!”

He was still picturing her undressing for him. Maybe dancing. Definitely whispering naughty things in his ear.

“Michael!” She stomped her foot, snapping him out of his daydreams.

“What?” He snapped back. Dammit.

“Please, Michael. Just listen.” Maria sighed and sat down.

He shrugged and sat down in an armchair across from her. Alright, this he had to hear. But it was good for him if she thought it was her fault. That meant she wouldn't report him. And maybe in time he could stop feeling so bad about it.

“But first you have to promise me you won't tell Alex.”

“Tell Alex what? About last night?” Why did she mention Alex? She didn't even know him.

“No. Yes. No… About… about what I am going to tell you.” Maria gestured with her hands.

“Uh, okay?” He shrugged again. If it was even possible for him to be any more intrigued, he was now.

“No, really. Promise.” She looked at him intently.

“Alright, how about that. I won't tell Alex and you won't either. Not Alex and not any of the other teachers or council officials.” Michael raised his eyebrow.

“Deal.” She nodded quickly. A bit too quickly for Michael's liking. Now he was suspicious.

“Okay. What is going on?”

Maria bit her lip. “You know last night at Din's?”

“Yes…” He raised his eyebrow.

“Well, we were all there. Tess and Kyle, us…”

”Maria.” Michael raised his voice. Where was she going with this?

“You must know that Tess has the biggest crush on Kyle.”

”I've noticed.” Why was she telling him all of this?

”Oh.” She bit her lip again. “Well, yeah, so… so she really, really likes him.”

”Maria.”

”Okay, okay. I'm… getting to it.” She glared at him now. “But the thing is… she thinks Kyle doesn't like her back.”

”What's that got to do with us?” Michael sighed, wishing she would really just get to the point.

“Nothing. Everything…” Maria shrugged. “Just… just shut up and listen.”

He raised his eyebrow again. He liked her better when she was afraid of him. But then, was she ever?

“So you know Tess is Alex' student?”

Michael decided not to answer that one. Maybe if he shut up, she'd hurry up.

“So, anyways… she… she came up with this plan… on how to make Kyle like her.” She was looking down at her hands now. “But something must have gone wrong.”

”What?” Michael suddenly had a sneaking suspicion where this was heading. “What plan, Maria?”

”A potion.” She met his gaze now. “She brewed a love potion for her and Kyle.”

”But?” He clenched his fists already knowing the end of the story.

“But it must have landed in our glasses instead of theirs, because she said Kyle didn't even kiss her cheek and he really should have, if it worked, and… and maybe… maybe we didn't, but… but please don't tell Alex!” She ended her rant by sending him a pleading look.

“What? What the… damn, Maria!” Michael jumped up and started pacing. “A love potion? A fucking love potion? They're forbidden for a reason, Maria!” But that explained. It explained all of it. Except for this morning. It was certainly still having an effect on him, but why had it worn off for her already?

“But you won't tell Alex, right?”

”Oh like hell I won't!” He passed his hands through his hair, still pacing. “He needs to know what his student is using her research for.”

”No, Michael, you promised!” Maria jumped up.

“Yeah, before I knew what you'd tell me. A love potion? A… a love potion!” He shook his head. One of the best nights of his life and it had been under the influence of a poison?

“Please!” She stopped him and looked into his eyes. “Please, Michael. Don't tell him.” She took his hands in hers and he felt that electrical tingle again. The one he had felt last night. And this morning.

“No. She needs to be expelled for that.”

“If you tell Alex, I will tell everyone else. Just, I will deny everything about the potion. I will tell them that… that you…” She looked away and stopped, but she didn't need to go on. He knew what she was threatening him with.

“Fine.” He took a step away from her. She really would take that road, wouldn't she? “I won't tell Alex.”

”Oh, thank you, Michael. Thank you!” Maria tried to hug him but he quickly moved back.

“Don't!” He shook his head and gave her an icy glare. How could she be thankful? She had left him with no choice. Michael bowed his head and sat back down again, burying his face in his hands. This was all so screwed up. And why had the damn potion not worn off on him yet? Damn Alex and his books. And… and damn Alex! It shouldn't have worked on him in the first place. And now he couldn't even go rough him up and make him reverse it, because Alex would never stop asking before he knew the truth about how Michael became infected in the first place.

“I'm really sorry.” Maria sat down next to him and he flinched when she placed a hand on his shoulder.

“Why?” He sighed and looked up at her. “It's not your fault.” She bit her lip and he immediately knew there was more to it. “You knew she was spiking the drinks, didn't you?”

She nodded, then looked away. “I really didn't think it'd affect us. I wouldn't have drunk it if…” She hesitated, cocked her head and seemed to have a private conversation with herself. Then she blushed and didn't say anything else.

Michael frowned. “But what I don't understand is why I am still affected by it and you're not.” Why not bring it to the point. It was going to drive him crazy either way.

“You… you are?” Maria was still blushing.

“Yes,” he answered shortly. How could he not be? Damn, she was sitting here so close to him, smelling so damn good… and although he was still pissed off at the whole thing… he wanted nothing more than to shift them up to his bedroom again. Or better yet have her right here. Maybe some angry sex would get him over it. But then he remembered that she used to be a virgin and quickly scraped that from his mind. He couldn't abuse the poor girl any further. As much as she seemed to have liked it the night before…

“I… I'm too.” She bit her lip and her blush darkened. She also refused to meet his exploring gaze.

She was? “You are?” He cocked his head.

Maria nodded and finally looked at him. Her eyes were full of questions but he could see that familiar spark in them too. That fire, that naughtiness that drove him crazy last night.

“So what are we going to do about it?” Michael turned and moved an inch or two closer to her.

“I… I don't know…” She raised her eyebrow. “I mean, now we both know it's the potion. And it's a strong magic spell…”

“Yeah, strong.” Michael agreed, his gaze focusing on her lips.

“So there's nothing really we can do about it, can we?” She moved closer to him and he could feel her breath coming in short puffs against his skin.

“No. There really isn't anything.” Besides going to Alex. Or searching the books himself. Or resisting. Or… or… oh, what the hell? Michael advanced forward and closed the gap between them with a searing kiss. His arms wrapped around her slender body in an instant, almost as if he was afraid she might jump up and leave him again. And to tell the truth, he was.

But he had nothing to worry about. Maria reciprocated the kiss with equal ferocity and slipped her hands into his hair, holding him close to her while their tongues battled together, getting re-accustomed to a familiar friend from last night.

He started to untie the laces of her gown, but then remembered where they were, and who he was with. He didn't want to just take her again, here in his study. Like any random girl he'd never see again. Potion induced or not, he wanted it to be meaningful. He owed her.

Michael stopped and pulled away. “Not here.” He shook his head.

“Wh..what?” Maria looked at him through heavy lids, her pupils dilated and lips already swollen from the bruising kiss. Damn, he wanted to ravish her. Right here. Rip the dress apart and…

Michael shook his head again, but he was unable to form words. Instead he just stood up and then picked a very confused and flustered Maria up in his arms before proceeding to carry her upstairs into the master bedroom. He didn't trust himself enough to shift them. He was just too… affected by the potion. Yeah. Really, really strong potion.

Maria had wrapped her arms around his neck and was playing with the hair at the nape of his neck, making him groan in frustration and stop on his way to lean her against the wall and kiss her again. She giggled when he finally found his way into the bedroom and kicked the door shut before he threw her down on the bed.

“Michael!” She bounced and laughed. It was adorable. He could do nothing for a minute but stand and stare at her. Then she reared up on her knees and raised her left eyebrow, her hands snaking behind her neck to finish where he had left off.

He shook his head, finally finding his voice again. “No. Let me.” He remained standing in front of her and just moved his fingers through the air while her dress untied itself. It was a different spell than the night before. This one was slower. More fun. She looked at him in awe and shivered, the silky garment teasing her back. When it finally fell down her shoulders, she instinctively covered her breasts again and Michael sighed. “No, please. Don't.”

Maria bit her lip and very, very slowly lowered her arms.

“You're gorgeous, Maria. You have nothing to hide.” He took a step closer and then kneeled down on the bed in front of her, cupping her cheek. “Haven't you learned anything last night?”

At that she raised her eyebrow again and he could see the conflicting emotions running across her face. To ensure her that he was only kidding, he smirked and gave her a quick wink. Maria relaxed. “I guess you'll have to keep teaching me.” She leaned into his touch.

“I guess. And I know from experience that teaching you takes a lot of time and effort.” He clucked his tongue and placed his free hand on top of her right breast, carefully kneading it.

A small moan escaped her lips but she managed to nod. “But it's… it's gonna be rewarding for you too, right?”

“Right.” He chuckled and nuzzled her nose. “Very rewarding. I know that from experience too.”

Maria smiled and wrapped her arms around his neck, forcing him to close the dreadful inches of empty space between their lips with another scorching kiss. She tugged at his hair and pushed him over onto his back, straddling him and taking the lead. Michael leaned back and let her. This time they would do it all in slow motion. He'd make sure he wouldn't hurt her again in any way.

Although, when her fingers started to unfasten his pants even before he had had a chance to take off his cloak, he began to doubt if slow was even an option with her. Unless maybe he'd tie her up and really teach her about the joy of dragging it out. They had a full day ahead of them, so there'd be plenty of time… He grinned.

“What are you thinking about?” Maria cocked her head and ripped open his shirt at the same time.

“Nothing, Blondie. Nothing.” He chuckled. Yeah. Plenty of time for slow. Later.

********

Chapter Eleven

Maria was safely snuggled into Michael's arms and let out a satisfied sigh. She was glad they knew what was causing all of this now, and that he wasn't really mad. They were both mutually infected, so he wasn't just using her. She was using him too, so to speak. And hey, if they both agreed this was only the potion's fault, then there was no harm.

Although she couldn't deny the little voice in the back of her head asking what would happen if the potion stopped working. She had been attracted to him before, even though he was old and mean. Okay, maybe not really that much older than her, but mean. Definitely mean. Her eyes fell on the two black silk scarves now lying on the floor and she blushed, remembering just how mean he could be. But oh, it had been so rewarding for her, in the end. Just as this whole training would be.

She smiled and nodded to herself. Maria looked up when she heard him chuckle. “What's so funny?” She raised her eyebrow.

“You look like you're having a nice conversation with yourself there, Blondie.” Michael smirked and stroked her arm, causing fresh goose bumps to rise over her skin.

“Maybe I am.” She shrugged innocently.

“And? Do I come out good between the both of you?”

”Maybe.” Maria had to smirk as well. “We're still debating.”

He raised his eyebrow. “Anything I can do to help you make a point?” He rolled over so he was once again hovering on top of her.

“M..maybe.” Her breath caught in her throat when he descended upon her, his mouth now almost close enough to kiss. She raised her head to meet him just when he pulled back.

“Maybe?”

”Definitely. I mean definitely!” Maria quickly nodded and buried a hand in his hair, trying to pull him down.

“That's what I thought.” He chuckled again and then their lips fused in a searing kiss.

When he pulled back, he rolled over again, much to her dismay. She scooted closer to his chest and placed one of her legs between his so now she was almost lying on top of him. “So…” She bit her lip and played with the few hairs on his chest.

“So?” He raised his eyebrow again, but then he sighed. “We should talk?”

”Maybe.” Maria sighed as well. “But didn't we already do that?”

Michael shrugged and crossed his arms behind his head, staring at the ceiling now. “Is it wearing off for you?”

”The potion?” He met her gaze and nodded. “No. You?”

Michael shook his head. And Maria knew she should be disappointed - it was a drug effecting her system after all - but she felt nothing but giddiness.

They both laid in silence for a while after that, Maria playing with his chest and Michael playing with her back, both tracing patterns. Until Maria spoke up again. “Michael?”

”Mmm?”

”I'm hungry.” She looked up at him almost apologetically. She didn't want to move, but she really had to eat.

Michael smiled and nodded. “Yeah…” He thought about it for a moment. “Hey, didn't you have cookies before?”

”Yes!” Maria's eyes lit up. But then she frowned. “I think… I think I left them at The Whit's.”

“Oh.” He nodded, but then he stopped touching her and instead sat up a little. “I have a new spell for you.”

She groaned.

“Okay now, Blondie. Just because we are under a spell, does not mean I will stop teaching you. Who knows how long this will last? We can't just waste all this time in bed, as promising as it sounds.” He gave her a look.

Maria rolled her eyes but she had to agree that he was having a point. “Alright. Teach me, Master.” Her lips twitched and she couldn't keep up her straight face. In fact, the more she tried the harder it got and eventually she broke down into a loud laughter.

Michael had to join in as well, but then he spanked her ass. “Brat.”

Maria immediately shut up and glared up at him. The bastard was grinning now.

“Wow, I kept wanting to do this so many times, you have no idea!”

She glared harder. “Hey!”

Michael laughed and spanked her again. “Oh yes, this is definitely fun.”

Maria moved away from him so he couldn't reach her tender behind anymore. But she wasn't really mad at him. Seeing him laugh and be so carefree was enough to soothe her. She had never seen her master this way, and she had to admit, it was making her happy. Yet still, her ass now hurt and she kept glaring.

“You willing to be taught now, or do I have to keep going?” He raised his hand again.

“Alright, alright. I give in.” Maria held up her hands in defeat.

Michael grinned. “Good.” He waited till she had moved into a more comfortable position before he went on. “This is actually a pretty easy spell. You just say mbechta kaaben and then add the item you are looking for.”

She frowned. “Mbechta kaaben… cookies?” That didn't sound right.

“Yep. And of course you have to concentrate on the item, since you're not just looking for any cookies. You want your cookies.”

“Right.” She nodded slowly.

“Believe in it.” Michael gave her his look again. He could see she wasn't fully convinced yet. She was still doubting her own abilities. Would this ever stop? “Just like when you shift. But this is just so much easier. It's a spell for five-year-olds.”

Maria cocked her head. Michael knew that the last one got to her. She didn't want to mess up a spell for kids. Her ego wouldn't allow it. So he wasn't surprised when she closed her eyes and seemed to concentrate, before she mumbled her spell.

Meanwhile at The Whit's: Alex came back down the stairwell. He had spend hours concocting healing potions with Tess, in hopes if she saw what good one could do with it, then maybe she would stop wasting her time worrying about all the forbidden recipes. Although by now he should know better.

She was still upstairs cleaning up and he sighed, looking forward to some quiet time in his study. He sat down in his large armchair and was about to lay up his feet when he spotted a bag of cookies on the table. Realizing Maria must have forgotten them in the odd haze she had been in, Alex smiled. “Just what I need right now.” He happily reached for the bag when suddenly it flickered and just vanished before his eyes.

His face dropped. “Michael!” Alex raised his fist but then dropped it again and sighed. His old friend had a lot of explaining to do the next time they met.

Back at Dragon's Lair Castle, Michael's bed to be precise, Maria jumped when the cookie bag appeared in her hands. “Wow. It worked!” She looked at them in awe.

Michael smiled, proud that she had done it at the first try. “Told you it was easy.” He wrapped his arm around her and gave her a quick squeeze. It was nice that now he could do this without being afraid of the consequences or where it might lead. Since it was already too late for that. Maybe he should thank Tess for the potion… Yeah, maybe he would, right before he told Alex and had him punish her like she deserved.

Maria quickly opened the bag and started munching on some cinnamon cookies. Michael reached into the bag as well.

“These are good.” He licked his lips.

“Yeah. My mom send them.” Her face fell.

“Tell her thanks from me.” Michael nudged her.

“I will.” She sighed and stopped chewing.

“What?” He cocked his head, scrutinizing her.

“It's nothing.”

”Yeah, I can see that.” He stopped eating as well and took the bag out of her hands, making her face him. “Come on, you can tell me.”

Maria bit her lip. “I guess I… I guess I'm feeling guilty.” She shrugged.

“But why?” The second he had asked, he knew the answer. Maria only confirmed it.

“Because of this. Us. If my mom knew what I was doing… she'd never forgive me.” She passed her hands through her hair.

“Of course she will. She loves you, Maria. I could see that.” Him on the other hand, him she'd probably want to kill.

“But I am having sex. With an older man!”

“Hey now!” Michael held up his hands. “I am only six years older than you.” Now he felt offended.

Maria raised her eyebrow, but then she just sighed again. “What are we doing, Michael?”

He wrapped his arms back around her, holding her close. He couldn't really answer her question, because he wasn't so sure himself. “It's gonna be okay, Blondie. And if it helps, you can't really act against a spell once it has affected you. Maybe that will calm her down.”

She looked up at him, her eyebrow still raised.

“But you won't tell her, will you?” Because that would end bad for all of them. Most especially him.

“No.” She shook her head and snuggled into his body. “But that just makes me feel worse.”

Michael kissed her forehead and stroked her arm soothingly. He still had no answer for her. But he understood it. Because he was feeling guilty as well. Which was odd, since if he had any say about how potions worked, they would shut off the whole guilt thing along with the inhibitions they had obviously worked fine on. He sighed and closed his eyes, just quietly holding her in his arms for a while.

The next two weeks went by in a blur. Maria avoided her friends as much as possible and Michael avoided Alex. They spend half of their time in bed and the rest was the usual teachings. The ironic thing was, Maria didn't fall behind. In fact she seemed to learn even more now. Maybe all she needed was the right motivation. Because now, the quicker she learned, the sooner they had time for other activities. And she had to admit to herself – and to Michael, much to her dismay – that she had indeed spend her first few months with him slacking around and waiting for the good spells to come her way so she could concentrate on those. Like shifting. Whenever she was truly challenged, she gave her best. But now she was forced to give her best all the time. And she didn't mind at all, because the reward was just too damn good.

Today was special. Maria was spending the night again, for the first time since that one fateful night two weeks ago. They had told her mother some story about an important spell which needed many hours of preparation and could only be done by night. She wasn't the least bit suspicious. Or at least they both hoped she wasn't.

But instead of spending their time studying, Michael had prepared a candlelight dinner for them and Maria had learned how to light a fire which wouldn't need any wood to keep burning. And after some nice moments on the rug in front of it, she had shifted them up to the bedroom where they were now once again lying entwined in each other's arms.

“Michael?” Maria had a hard time keeping her eyes open, but she had to get it out.

“Yeah?” He played with her hair, his mouth still curved into the smirk he had sported all evening.

“When… when do you think the potion is going to stop working?” She looked up at him to see his reaction.

“I… I don't know.” He frowned. “I'd have to ask Alex.”

”Oh.” And they both knew that was out of the question.

“Why? Do you want it to stop?” He swallowed the lump in his throat, eager for her reply.

“No.” She shook her head and gave him a reassuring smile. “Do you?”

He bit his lip but when her face fell quickly answered with a truthful “No.” He should want it to end, shouldn't he? Because it was forbidden. And if the were discovered… but yet still, he seemed to care about it less and less.

They spend the next few moments in silence until Maria spoke up again. “Michael?”

”Huh?” He smiled down at her.

“Do you think… is it possible that the spell just gets stronger? The potion? Can it work… more after a while?” She started nibbling on her thumbnail nervously.

Michael just watched her for the longest time, thinking it over. He had never heard of this before. Yet he couldn't deny that he felt the same. He felt for her more and more each day. “Yes.” He cocked his head and had to add, “I think so.” He shrugged helplessly. “It is getting stronger for you too, right? That's why you ask?”

Maria nodded. “So… for you as well?” She stopped playing with her nail and cupped his cheek instead. He moved his head and kissed her palm.

“Yes.”

They both smiled at each other and met in a sweet kiss before they settled back into a comfortable position, their limbs still entwined until they fell asleep.

After their confession they should both be dreaming happy dreams. However, Michael was having a nightmare. He couldn't remember much of it anymore the next day, only that Hank had come back. He was in his castle, in his bedroom, Maria in his grip and a dagger at her throat.

“You really thought I was going to let you get happy, Mikey? You betrayed me and I am going to take everything you love. Everyone you love.” His inhuman laughter roared through the halls before he vanished in a bright flame, taking Maria with him.

Michael woke up bathed in sweat and panting. He knew what was missing instantly. Maria. Maria wasn't in his bed anymore, not by his side, not in the room. “Maria?” He jumped up and stared at the tangled sheets, as if maybe she was by some chance hidden underneath them. But he knew she wasn't. “Maria?” His voice grew in volume and urgency and he felt sick. Really, truly sick, the dread overwhelming all his senses. “Maria!” He screamed her name one last time before he collapsed onto the floor.

********

Chapter Twelve

Michael shivered as he slowly dragged himself up from the floor. This wasn't helping. He needed to take action. He needed to find Maria now, before Hank had the time to get bored and kill her. He knew for now she was safe, because Hank wanted him to watch. But if he took too long… there was no saying what might happen. Hank was a ruthless bastard. Michael shivered again. And now Maria was in his hands. Maria. His Maria.

He clenched his fists and then punched a hole in the wall. “Aaaaah!” He let out a roaring scream, the pain momentarily drowning out anything else. But as soon as it came over him, it already passed and he was left with nothing but dread.

This was no good. No good. No good! He shuddered again and convulsed to the floor. He felt so sick. So very sick. Maria… Sweet Maria… Alone with Hank. Michael closed his eyes and willed all the horrible flashes back down before he finally got up yet again.

He need a clear head. He had to think straight to get her back. He had to be rational. In order to save her, his feelings had to disappear. They were distracting. All the worry. His stomach was in tight knots and he couldn't stop thinking about losing Maria. He loved her. He loved her so very much! Losing her would kill him. But he couldn't go face Hank like that. He was an emotional wreck and Hank would know just how to play him.

Letting out a roar of frustration, Michael took another swing at his wall. He watched the concrete crumble and didn't even notice how his knuckles had started to bleed. And it still wouldn't do any good. He was still only pained about being without Maria.

But what if… The tiniest flicker of hope raised within him. What if Maria was only just in another part of the castle and this was all a nightmare? What if none of it was real? But no. He knew better than that. After being raised and later haunted by Hank for years, he knew better. This was no dream, it was the harsh reality in all it's ugly colors. And it was his fault.

He should have killed him. Should have killed him when he had the chance. But instead he thought he was better than that. Better than Hank. And so he had let him live and get banned. He should have known that no magic would ever be strong enough to keep Hank out of his life. Should have…

Why did he allow himself to get happy? He should have known better there as well. A happy life was not meant for The Dragon. Let alone love. The only reason for all of this had been the stupid potion. Figured, that magic would be the only way for him to ever experience love, if only for a brief time. But the natural cause would be to have it slowly fade away, not to have it violently taken from him by the hands of Hank.

And Maria… Sweet, innocent Maria. She had nothing to do with this. But now he had dragged her into his life, into his nightmare. And now she would die because of him. And because of the potion.

Michael suddenly stopped. The potion. That was the problem. If he could finally reverse the effect, his head would clear up, he could go save Maria and then send her on her way. Get her another teacher and then she could live happily ever after and he could go back to the solitary life he deserved.

So without further ado Michael ran back into his bedroom, put on his black leather pants as well as the darkest shirt he could find, ignored the memories of Maria when he spotted the stash of pink clothes in the far corner… failed and ripped the closet door out of it's hinges, then finally put on his shoes and coat and shifted himself over to The Whit's, where he was banging against the front door loudly. Only because he really wanted to do so, because he knew the door would be open. And it was, so he strode right in when his hand hurt enough to clear his mind once again.

“Alex! Alex!” Michael barged in through to the study room, catching his friend by surprise.

Alex looked up from his book with a frown. “Michael? What are you doing here?”

Michael winced and passed his hands through his hair. Why didn't he know? “Take it back.” He growled.

“What?” Alex' frown deepened.

”The spell. Take back the damn spell.”

“Spell?” Alex stood up and took one step closer, scrutinizing Michael.

“Yes, spell. Don't play dumb with me, Alex. I know she must have gotten it from you. And I know you can sense it.” Michael was slowly losing his patience. Didn't Alex realize that he had no time to waste?

“Who? Tess?” Alex scratched the back of his head.

“Yes, dammit! Now take it the fuck back!”

“Well how about you start by telling me who's under it, or better yet, bring them here?” Alex was unfazed, a hint of amusement in his voice.

“Well, who do you think it is? Me, dammit! Can't you see?” Michael was getting angrier by the second, if that was even possible. And how could Alex just stand there and be so calm? He snapped and lashed out at his friend, pushing Alex hard so he was stumbling a few steps backwards until he hit the table.

“Michael! Are you insane?” Alex' frown returned and he quickly straightened himself back up. He held up his hands and cautiously stepped closer again while reaching into his waist pocket and getting out his glasses, then putting them on. “You're not under a spell.”

”Yes! I am! I… I must be.” Michael's voice faltered slightly. He squeezed his eyes shut and took a deep breath. He was tempted to push him again, or better yet, blast him against the wall to force him to act. It took all of his strength to fight against his anger. This was Alex. Alex, not Hank.

“Why do you think that, Michael?” Alex sat back down and motioned for his friend to take a seat as well. Michael just stared at him and remained standing.

“Because… Because of Maria.” He really didn't know?

“Maria? What's she got to do with it?”

”Nothing.” He started pacing. “Everything.” He sighed and rubbed his hands over his face. “I… it's hard to explain.” Why didn't he know? He always knew who was under a spell. What was wrong? Could it be…

“Try it?” Alex' face showed visible concern but Michael shook his head.

“So I'm not under any spell? You sure?” He clenched his eyes shut once more and pinched the skin on the back of his nose. This was so not happening. He could feel the room spinning around him. He walked closer to the wall to lean on to it, but then ended up just punching his fist into the concrete once again.

”Michael!” Alex jumped up and gently placed a hand on Michael's shoulder. “I would know. Trust me.”

He flinched but slowly turned to face his friend. When he saw his face it helped him remembering who he was talking to, and who he wasn't supposed to hit. “But… but the ale!”

“Ale? What ale?”

”Tess, she… it didn't work for her, so… so I must have drunken it. Me… Me and Maria.” He swallowed a sob. “Maria…”

“Tess?” Alex raised an eyebrow. “Wait a minute.” He let go and walked out the back door of his study hall, into the laboratories. “Tess!” Michael could hear him yelling out her name. “Tess! Get over here right now.”

The door fell shut and all Michael was left hearing were more muffled shouts. He clenched and unclenched his fists, eyeing the wall again. Eventually he just leaned his head against it. He had to get it together. This was still not helping. What was wrong with his head?

Just as he was about to try banging that against the wall for a change, the door opened and Alex was back, dragging a guilty looking Tess along with him.

“So, Tess told me what she put in the drink…” Alex gave her a sharp look. “And Michael… even if it would have worked, it was only a temporary one. One night at the most.” Alex glanced at Tess again. “Not to mention she didn't find the dragonfly herbs so she used wings instead.” He shook his head. “That wouldn't have worked anyways, no matter who drank it or not.”

“It didn't work?” Michael slowly turned to face them. “But… but Maria… I… I would have never.” He passed his hands through his hair crestfallen. It hadn't worked? There was no spell? But then… why was he… where did all those feelings come from?

“Never what, Michael?” Alex raised his eyebrow.

“Nothing.” Everything. Everything!

“Tess, you have something to say to us?” He pushed her forward so she could talk to Michael.

”Uh, yeah, so, dragonfly herbs… where can I find…”

”Tess!” Alex' sharp voice made her flinch.

“I'm sorry.” She looked down at her feet.

“Okay. Now go back to your studies. We'll talk about reprimands later.” He pointed towards the backdoor.

Tess bit her lip and nodded before quickly scurrying off again.

As soon as she was gone, Alex went back over to Michael. “And now you better tell me what is going on.”

”So there was no spell? Never?” He had to make sure.

“You really think I'd let her anywhere near the real books? She's a student Michael, first year. You think she'd be able to mix a powerful love spell? One that affects you?”

“I dunno… students can surprise you.” He gave a sad smile.

“You know, when I mixed you that potion to make you immune to all kinds of spells and poisons, that included cases like this. Did you think I'd screwed up? I am offended here, friend.” He placed his hand on his heart and faked a wounded look.

“I… I just… I didn't know what to think anymore.” He felt defeated. This was his last hope. His only chance of rescuing Maria and now it was gone. Michael felt sick again. His chest constricted painfully and he clutched at it before sinking down to the floor.

Alex quickly knelt next to him. “Michael? Are you okay? Dammit, you better tell me what is going on right now!”

“It's… it's Maria.” Michael looked at him through clenched eyes, still clutching at his chest. “Hank. Hank's got her.” The nausea was overcoming him once more and he banged his head hard against the wall he was leaning on, then sighed in content. Blissful pain.

“Fuck!” Alex quickly touched Michael's head and then dragged him away from the wall. “Michael, are you insane? What is wrong with you?”

”You tell me.” He looked up at him, getting angry again. “You tell me! You're the big master, tell me what spell I am under and make it go away! I can't stand this, Alex. It… it hurts!” His anger left once more and all he was left with was misery and dread. Why was this happening to him? “Alex…” His voice broke. “It hurts, Alex.”

A sharp slap to his face made him snap out of it. Michael stared up at Alex who was staring back, clear concern written all over his face. “If you don't tell me what is going on right now, I am going to call in the Elders for an assembly and we will find out. One way or another.” Alex raised his eyebrow, the sudden determination on his face made Michael shiver.

“It's… it's Maria.” Michael rubbed his hands over his face and slowly dragged himself into a sitting position again. “Hank… He's got her. He took her straight from my… castle.”

“Shit.” Alex sat down next to Michael. “But why? And why now? Why would he…” He frowned, looking Michael over, then suddenly it struck him. “You're in love with her, aren't you?”

Michael swallowed the lump in his throat, a fresh burst of pain cursing through his chest. He couldn't answer. But there was no need to.

His friend nodded. “So that's what this is all about. You came here so I would end your ‘love' so Hank would let her go? Michael, even you should know that…”

”That's not it.” Michael interrupted him. “I know he won't let her go. I know.” He took a deep breath. “But I can't… think… straight right now. I can't explain this. I thought I knew how to end this, that once I had the potion out of me, that it would go away, but now… now there never was a potion.” He passed his hands through his hair. “But how is that possible, Alex? She is my student. She is… she's such a pain in my ass!” He had to laugh for a brief moment. “How can I be in love?”

Alex smiled and patted Michael's thigh. “Because that's just how it happens.”

”But… but not to me!”

”Why? Because you're The Dragon? You think just because you pretend to be the strong, cold superior, you are?”

“Hey! I don't pretend. I am…” Michael stopped.

“You are in love, Michael. You have feelings. You always had. You just never learned how to live with them.”

Michael snorted. “Yeah, thanks. That's helping me a great lot right now. Can't you just make them go away again?” He gave him a pleading look. “Give me something so I can go and finally kill him.”

“You don't need a potion, Michael.” Alex shook his head. “What you need is to get out there, bring her home and send Hank a message that he should never ever mess with you again.”

“But I… I can't. I feel so weak. It's these feelings.” He wanted nothing more than to do just what Alex suggested. Of course he did! But… but… “Love sucks.”

Alex smirked and then turned to face Michael. He placed his hands on his cheeks to force Michael to look at him. “Listen to me, Michael. You are still The Dragon. You are the most powerful magician I know. The most powerful magical being out there. You are stronger than Hank. Even more so, you know him. You know his strengths and weaknesses. You have beat him before and you can again.” He gave him a look. “You are The Dragon. And your feelings will only make you stronger.”

”But…” Michael tried to look away but Alex wasn't allowing it.

“You want her back, don't you?”

”More than anything!”

”See? That's just it. You have to strive on it. You know what you have to do. You know, Michael.” Alex let go, pleased to see Michael wasn't pulling away. “And if you need reinforcements, I will come along and I am sure more would follow. It's Hank. You don't have to face him alone.”

”Yes, I do.” Michael nodded determined, his mind suddenly clearing up. It was as if a big fog was lifting and he finally saw the solution that was there all along. “He's my father. My responsibility. I can't let anyone else get in the way.”

“You sure?” Alex cocked his head.

“Yes. I'm sorry, my friend, but like you said, I am The Dragon, and The Dragon fights alone.” He gave him a crooked smirk and shrugged before he stood up.

Alex stood up as well. “So now what?”

”I know where he is. And I shouldn't waste any more time before I go and destroy him once and for all.” He winced at the thought of the precious hours he had already lost. Hours that Maria had to spend alone with him. With Hank. Sour bile rose up in his throat. “He got just what he wanted, he threw me completely out of the loop.”

”Yes, but you are back now, aren't you?”

”Yes.” Michael nodded. “Thanks to you, old friend.” He squeezed Alex' shoulder. “When this is over…”

”Then you'll bring her here and we'll have some tea. I can't wait to have another chat with the woman that got through to you.” He smiled before he scratched his nose. “You sure you don't need anything though? No potions or powders or anything?”

”No.” He shook his head. “You can't fight him with toys. He's too strong for that.” But so was Michael himself. He pressed his lips together and gave Alex a last, court nod.

“Wait! One last thing...” Alex made him stop. “If you ever push me again, I will kick your ass.”

”Noted.” Michael smirked and quickly shifted out before his bad conscience for hurting his friend could kick in. He couldn't worry about that right now. He needed all of his energy focused on Hank. Hank and Maria. Alex was right. She made him stronger. Because now he wasn't just fighting Hank out of hatred, now he had a real reason. Hank would pay for ever even laying his eyes on Maria, and if it was the last thing Michael did. Hank would die tonight.


tbc


*********


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